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Cleveland police supervisor found not guilty in connection with '137 shots' case

Prosecutors had claimed her actions directly contributed to the events of that night.

A Cleveland police supervisor has been found not guilty of criminal activity in connection with her actions in the infamous "137 shots" case back in 2012.

East Cleveland Municipal Court officials confirmed Sgt. Patricia Coleman, of Brooklyn was acquitted of dereliction of duty Friday after a three-day trial. The result ends a years-long battle that saw the city fight for the right to try Coleman and others at their own discretion.

The case, of course, stems from the events of Nov. 29, 2012, when Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams led Cleveland officers on a chase that led all the way into East Cleveland. Police said they though they heard shots being fired from their car, and eventually 62 squad cars from multiple departments were involved in the pursuit. 

In all, 137 shots were fired at Russell's and Williams' vehicle, and both were killed in the hail of gunfire. An investigation later found neither had been armed at the time of the incident, creating a firestorm of criticism against the Cleveland Division of Police. The officers involved were accused of racism, due to the fact that Russell and Williams were both African-American.

Only one member of the division, Officer Michael Brelo, faced felony charges in the aftermath of the incident. Brelo had fired 49 of the 137 shots into the car, but was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in a 2015 bench trial in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Judge John P. O'Donnell ruled Brelo had been justified in his use of deadly force (due to acting under the assumption that shots had been fired), and that it could not be proven he fired the fatal shots that killed Russell and Williams. 

Brelo was also the only officer to lose his job following the shooting (five others had been fired but were later reinstated by an arbitrator), and a federal civil rights investigation led to no additional charges. However, Cuyahoga County decided to charge five supervisors (including Coleman) with misdemeanor dereliction of duty in 2015. After the county dropped its own case, East Cleveland Law Director Willa Hemmons filed charges of her own in the city.

The case did not proceed immediately and had to withstand multiple appeals, and eventually charges were dropped against three of the officials. Regarding Coleman, although she had not set foot in East Cleveland on the night of the incident, then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty claimed her "reckless decisions" contributed to the deaths of Russell and Williams and "almost put several of the officers under her command in their coffins." Coleman maintained her innocence throughout, and reportedly even refused a relatively minor plea deal.

One other supervisor, Sgt. Randolph Dailey, remains charged in East Cleveland. His trial has been delayed, but East Cleveland leaders have previously declared their intentions to try him.

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