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137 Shots in Cleveland

Officers with the Cleveland Police Department fired 137 rounds into a vehicle occupied by two unarmed individuals. None of the officers were convicted.

By True Crime WriterPublished 2 years ago 3 min read

On November 29, 2012, Cleveland police officers mistook the backfire from a 1979 Chevy Malibu as gunfire as it pulled off after a traffic stop. Officers hopped inside their patrol cars and took off after the vehicle, occupied by Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. After the pursuit began in downtown Cleveland, officers requested backup, stating the occupants of the car held a gun out the window and fired at them. In total, more than 100 officers in 62 patrol cars joined the 22-minute, 23-mile pursuit that ended when officers fired 137 rounds into the fleeing vehicle, hitting Russell 23 times and Williams 24 times.

Chevrolet Malibu Backfires, Pursuit Begins

Described as mentally ill, homeless drug addicts, Russell and Williams were pulled over in downtown Cleveland in a known drug area. The officer who made the stop did not search the vehicle or occupants. After letting Russell go with a warning, the car backfired.

Russell and the pursuing officers reached speeds toppling over 100 m.p.h. during the chase. Officers radioed in that Russell stuck a gun out of the window and fire it at them. The pursuit came to a brutal end when Russell finally pulled over in a middle school parking lot.

Citing they were “in fear of their lives,” officers immediately surrounded the car. Thirteen officers exited their patrol vehicles and began firing at the Malibu as they approached. Officers claimed they thought the occupants carried a gun and feared the driver would run them over with the vehicle.

Former Officer Michael Brelo stood on top of the vehicle and fired his police-issued weapon into the windshield of the car directly at the occupants a total of 49 times.

Officers claimed they were confused by the rapid succession of gunfire and thought that Russell and Williams were firing weapons at them. In reality, it was gunfire from the weapons shot by the 13 officers.

Williams and Russell were both pronounced dead at the scene.

Why Did Russell Not Pull Over?

It’s unclear why Russell did not pull over when he saw blue lights behind him for a second time. What is clear is that officers did not recover a weapon or drugs from the vehicle after the pursuit ended.

One Officer Charged, Acquitted in Deaths

Although six officers were terminated from the police department in relation to this incident, only Michael Brelo was criminally charged with manslaughter. Brelo continued to fire his weapon after other officers had ceased fire. Brelo fired an additional 15 rounds. He was acquitted of the charge. The judge presiding over the case said other officers also fired their weapons at Russell and Williams, and while the shots could have been fatal, prosecutors could not prove the bullets that killed the pair were fired from his weapon.

Photo: AP

The officers terminated from their positions were:

  • Wilfredo Diaz
  • Brian Saboli
  • Erin O’Donnell
  • Chris Ereg
  • Michael Brelo
  • Michael Farley

Five of the individuals were later reinstated as officers with the Cleveland Police Department.

Five supervising officers were charged with misdemeanor dereliction of duty and found not guilty of the charge.

U.S. Department of Justice Investigation

The U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the deaths of Russell and Williams. The investigation was closed in 2017 after the U.S. DOJ determined the Cleveland Police Department was “chaotic and dangerous” using “excessive and unreasonable force” when they fired 137 rounds into the vehicle.


137 Shots

For more information about this case, check out the documentary, “137 Shots.

Resources & More Case Information:


About the Creator

True Crime Writer

The best of the worst true crime, history, strange and Unusual stories. Graphic material. Intended for a mature audience ONLY.

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