CLEVELAND — The trial of five white Cleveland police supervisors charged with failing to control a car chase that ended in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that killed two unarmed black people could be moved from a county court in the city to a municipal court in an almost-all-black suburb, prosecutors said Thursday.
The supervisors were charged in Cleveland with dereliction of duty following the November 2012 shooting.
Cuyahoga County assistant attorney Rick Bell said during a pretrial hearing in county court that if East Cleveland files the same misdemeanor charges against the supervisors the county would dismiss the original charges against them and allow the case to be heard there, where the car chase ended and the fatal shooting occurred.
Misdemeanor charges in Ohio are typically heard in municipal courts. East Cleveland Municipal Court has just one judge, William Dawson, who's black. If the supervisors' trial is heard by a jury in East Cleveland, it's likely that most of the jurors would be black.
More than 93 percent of East Cleveland's residents are black, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics. About 30 percent of Cuyahoga County's residents are black, as are about 53 percent of Cleveland's residents.
Attorneys for two of the police supervisors said Thursday it was unclear what the county prosecutor's office was trying to do.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said the East Cleveland prosecutor has requested that this office try the case in the East Cleveland Municipal Court.
East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton said he asked his law department shortly after the car chase and shooting whether his city could file criminal charges against any of the Cleveland police officers involved.
"We waited for action at the county level," Norton said. "And, yes, we are contemplating filing charges."
A white Cleveland patrolman, Michael Brelo, was acquitted by a county judge last month on two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams, who had led more than 100 officers in 62 police cruisers on a 22-mile, high-speed chase that ended in an East Cleveland school parking lot. Brelo's acquittal sparked generally peaceful protests in Cleveland.
When Brelo's attorneys requested that a judge, not a jury, consider the charges against him, McGinty fought the decision, saying it would deprive black county residents from sitting on a jury in the case.
The five supervisors were indicted at the same time Brelo was charged. Thursday's hearing was scheduled to decide a trial date before the judge who acquitted Brelo.
The county prosecutor's office said it had charged Brelo and his supervisors in one indictment and attempted to try them together in one trial but defense attorneys insisted on separate trials and their motion was granted.