EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Investigators will begin today interviewing the 13 Cleveland police officers who fired 137 bullets Thursday at a car, killing a Cleveland man and woman in East Cleveland after a high-speed chase.
Meanwhile, relatives of Malissa Williams, one of the two in the car, say they’re looking for answers about the circumstances that led to her violent death. They also say that Jeffery Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, owes them an apology.
East Cleveland Sgt. Scott Gardner said the Cleveland officers have been on paid leave the last three days.
“It’s standard procedure based on psychiatric research that shows it is best to wait 72 hours before interviewing officers involved in shootings,” Gardner said. The time off is meant to allow the officers to reflect on the traumatic experience before being questioned, he said.
The chase began about 10:30 p.m. Thursday outside the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. In a news conference Saturday, Follmer said two Cleveland officers heard a gunshot and believed it came from a 1979 Chevrolet Malibu belonging to Timothy Russell.
Russell, with Williams in his car, sped away.
The Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation has assigned two agents to assist the East Cleveland Police Department in unraveling what happened in the 26 minutes between when Cleveland officers heard a gunshot outside the Justice Center and Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, died in a hail of bullets.
Pathologists at the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office removed three dozen rounds from Russell’s and Williams’ bodies. She was shot 24 times, according to a spokesman.
Russell had driven from downtown on Interstate 90 east through Bratenahl at speeds of up to 100 mph and rammed a police car before he exited the freeway and headed into East Cleveland, Gardner said.
During the chase on the highway, an officer reported also seeing something in the passenger’s hands, Gardner said.
Russell ended up on a dead-end access road to an East Cleveland middle school. There a dozen officers from Bratenahl, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office who had joined in the pursuit converged with the 13 Cleveland officers.
They surrounded the Malibu, and some officers were out of their cars when Russell rammed another police car, Gardner said.
In the news conference, Follmer described it more forcefully. Russell “violently rammed a police car and almost struck an officer,” he said.
Police are trained to use deadly force to stop a suspect from using a vehicle as a weapon. They opened fire.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office is running gunshot-residue tests on Russell’s and Williams’ hands to determine if either fired a gun. The results should be in before week’s end.
No gun was found in Russell’s car or along the chase route. No bullet or casing was found outside the Justice Center.
East Cleveland police were expecting to release their tapes today of police radio communications during the chase and shooting.
Contacted Sunday, David Russell, 67, the father of Timothy Russell, said he knew little about his son’s death other than what he has seen on television. He said it had been some time since he last talked to his son.
He recalled him as being a good child, one of five children he and his late wife, Joyce Russell, raised together.
“I taught him how to work and his mother taught him how to act and get and education,” Russell said. “I know I never taught him about how to carry a gun.
Some of Williams’ relatives said Sunday they want answers about her death and an apology.
Williams, they said, suffered from schizophrenia and lived in a group home near downtown. She often went to lunch at Bishop Cosgrove Center and was friends of people who lived at the men’s shelter at 2100 Lakeside Ave.
Family members said the last time any of them made contact with Williams, who has a criminal record, was last week.
“I saw her when I was downtown on Monday,” said Walter Jackson, 46, Williams’ uncle. “She gave me a big ol’ hug, and kissed me on my neck.”
Her mother, Martha Williams, 52, said it had been a few years since she last saw her daughter.
Now, she said, she just wants answers about what happened.
“I just want to know why they did her like that,” Williams said. “They shot her like a wild animal, why did she have to die execution style.”
Those who want an apology from Follmer disliked comments he made in his news conference in which he referred to Williams and Russell as “bad guys” and said the police did a “great job.”
Williams’ aunt, Dorothy Sigelmier, said his statements were uncalled for.
“You have two people who are dead,” Sigelmier said. “I don’t see how he could make a statement like that.”
Relatives said Williams was not mentally stable and took medication to deal with her health ailment. They said she sometimes identified with herself as a man. Even though she has a criminal background, she was not a violent person, they said.
Williams had two children who were placed into the custody of the state, but the relatives said they’ve never had contact with them.
“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jackson said. “I wish she didn’t get into that car.”
The family has reached out to the Cleveland NAACP.
Rev. Hilton Smith, president elect of that organization, said it awaits the results of the police investigation and will monitor how Mayor Frank Jackson and his administration handle its findings.
“We are seeing how this investigation is going to turn out. We don’t want to say anything in rash judgment until we know the results.”
Until then, he said, it’s a time for prayer.
“We are praying mightily for the families of the people killed and for the stop of urban violence as a whole,” Smith said. “This is a societal problem, and right now we have to lift our community in prayer.
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