CLEVELAND, May 23 (UPI) -- Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo has been found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter after participating in a 2012 shooting that left an unarmed man and woman dead.
Judge John P. O'Donnell ruled Saturday morning that Brelo's actions in November 2012 were justified by law because he and other officers believed the couple -- who were involved in a high-speed chase -- was armed.
Victims Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, died after leading over 62 police vehicles on a chase across Cleveland. When the 1979 Chevy Malibu finally stopped, 13 officers shot at least 137 rounds into the car and its occupants.
Prosecutors say that Brelo, 31, was the only officer to continue shooting after the perceived threat was contained, the Washington Post reports. Not only that, the seven-year veteran reportedly stepped onto the car's hood and shot 15 additional rounds through the windshield directly at the two. Brelo told investigators he "did not recall" hopping onto the Malibu's hood, but matched footprints at the trial proved otherwise.
Police opened fire just as the vehicle stopped because they mistook the car's backfiring noise from earlier in the chase for gunshots from the two occupants. CNN reports that each of the two were shot at least 20 times.
"It is Brelo's perception of a threat that matters," O'Donnell said Saturday morning. "Brelo was acting in conditions difficult for even experienced police officers to imagine."
Reports of Brelo's acquittal come in the wake of many other high-profile cases involving the deaths of unarmed citizens at the hands of authorities. Such cases include the shootings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris and Freddie Gray.
After the verdict, Brelo was visibly shocked -- tears rolled down his face as he hugged his attorneys. Citizens watching from a separate overflow room began chanting "No justice, no peace," and street protests are reportedly underway.