THE FACTS SURROUNDING THE NIGHT OF NOVEMBER 29TH: A Primer Against Police Misconduct
Sensationalism aside. Let's walk through the events of November 29th.
At 10:26 PM, Cleveland Police Department John Jordan radios dispatch requesting "info"
on TIMOTHY RUSSEL'S VEHICLE. Jordan claimed the vehicle was parked at E. 22nd and Lakeside
near the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministy, a men's homeless shelter. Dispatch, at this time,
advised Jordan that Russel's vehicle checked clean, providing pertinent information.
Jordan claimed to have initiated a traffic stop involving Timothy Russel's vehicle
on E. 18th street between Rockwell and Superior, suspicious
that the occupants of the vehicle were involved in illegal drug activity. At this time,
Timothy fled from Jordan. In consequent reports, Jordan recounts that the passenger (Malissa)
was acting unstable.
Jordan pursued Timothy onto Superior Avenue, losing sight of the vehicle as it speeds down
He never radioed dispatch regarding the traffic stop or pursuit, did not document the incident on his duty log
and never came forward with this information; investigators first learned of his actions through
witnesses at the shelter and by running an off-line NCIC check on the subject vehicle’s license plate
After failing to report his recent incident involving Russel,
Jordan reportedly returned to the shelter where he demanded to know who the occupants of
the vehicle were, threatening arrests if he was not told. Jordan reportedly did not become involved in
the subsequent pursuit or shooting incident which followed. There is no evidence that any officer
involved in the subsequent pursuit or shooting was aware of Officer Jordan’s prior contact with
Less than five minutes after Jordan's short pursuit, Timothy Russel's vehicle sped past the
Justice Center in the 200 block of St. Clair Avenue (16 blocks west, 1 block north of Timothy's
encounter with John Jordan). As Timothy drove past, two police officers, Officer Vasile Nan
and Officer Alan Almeida (as well as a nearby parking attendant) heard a noise that they believe
to be conistent with a gunshot.
After the parking attendant expressed her concern to Officer Almeida of having been shot at,
Officer Nan ran to his cruiser and attempted to locate Timothy Russel's vehicle. Nan radios dispatch
concerning the direction of Russel's flight, concurrently incorrectly asserting that the two occupants
of Russel's vehicle are "two black males."
An alternative theory supported by evidence from police interviews taken after the subsequent pursuit
contends that the noise identified as a gunshot by the parking attendant may have in reality been
Timothy Russel's 1979 Chevy Malibu's backfiring tailpipe. The car reportedly backfires more
than once during the near-half-hour-long pursuit according to at least two officers. This information,
however, is not radioed to others during the pursuit.
From the Justice Center downtown, Russel's vehicle crossed the Detroit/Superior bridge at which point
Officers David Siefer and James Hummel observed the vehicle, in turn attempting to conduct a traffic stop
which Russel reportedly failed to obey, ignoring emergency lights and sirens. Russel continued to ignore
safety signals, disregarding the safety of those around him, oftentimes driving in the incorrect lane and
blowing through red lights.
THE RESULTANT PURSUIT
lasted approximately 25 minutes, reportedly reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour at
points. Surveillance videos obtained along the pursuit route depict that at one point, a minimum
of 62 police vehicles were in pursuit or following along the pursuit route. These vehicles
included marked and unmarked Cleveland Police Department vehicles, with Ohio State Highway Patrol
troopers, Cuyahoga County Sheriff deputies, Bratenahl Police Department officers and officers
of the RTA Police Department peripherally involved.
? Cleveland Police Department policy states that no more than two police vehicles
can participate directly in a pursuit except under unusual and well-articulated
circumstances. In this situation, at least 59 vehicles were involved without the
sector supervisor’s knowledge or permission.
Significant radio traffic from pursuing officers, which was relayed by dispatchers, indicated
a belief that the passenger of the vehicle was armed with a gun, and had already fired at officers.
Radio traffic also seemed to indcate that the passenger (Malissa Williams) was pointing a gun
at pursuers and was believed to be reloading a gun.
Recall that five minute before the initiation of the pursuit, before the primary pursuit of Russel's
vehicle by Cleveland Police Dept. John Jordan, Jordan reports that Malissa is acting unstable.
Past interactions between Malissa and Cleveland Police prior to the events of November 29th
were marked by disgruntled behavior, calling into question Malissa's mental health. With zero regard for any
necessary treatment Williams may have been in need of, her police record tells the story of a woman
continually at odds with the Cleveland Police Dept. For example, Williams was charged with possession of a
crack pipe after law enforcement officers executed a sting operation targeting addicts turned to prostitution.
As far as cause for eluding police pursuers--that is, not obeying the attempted traffic stops--herein may lie
Cleveland Police Department policy requires pursuing officers to switch
their radios to the main communication channel of the district in which the pursuit
originated, some of the pursuing officers did not do so. Because details of the
pursuit were being transmitted on multiple radio frequencies, there was confusion
as to which frequency was primary.
Radio traffic during the pursuit reportedly added to the stress and fear level of the officers
involved in this situation. Lead officers in the pursuit made subjective observations of the
subjects’ actions, and, instead of communicating precise observations, transmitted their beliefs without
qualifying their statements. Forinstance, the subjects made movements that were subjectively
interpreted by some officers as a gun being brandished. However, the radio broadcast was more
definitive – “He’s pointing the gun. He’s pointing the gun out the back window. Heads up.
Heads up. Passenger is pointing a firearm out the back window”.'
Oftentimes, however, the mere fact that something was transmitted does not necessarily
mean that all officers heard or understood what was said.
Amid this radio confusion,
Dispatchers told officers several times to cease pursuit of Russel's vehicle. This analysis supports
why Ohio Attorney General DeWine describes the tragedy as a failure for "the system". Law Enforcement
Officers did not quit chasing Russel's 1979 Chevy Malibu when instructed to. The chase illustrates
a massive failure in the chain of command and checks on the police force.
Officer Fairchild reported that the “passenger put his hands out asking us to stop,” and that the passenger was not
holding a gun but instead, was wearing black gloves and holding a red pop can. At the
conclusion of this incident, Malissa was in fact found to be wearing black gloves and had a
red Coca-Cola can in her immediate area.
The investigation in the wake of the November 29th tragedy has thus far determined that
Timothy Russel and Malissa Williams were unarmed on the night of their deaths.
The chase eventually concludes after a highspeed pursuit through Cleveland's near-west side onto
Interstate-90, eventually ending in dead-end parking lot at the Heritage Middle School
in East Cleveland
137 shots are fired into Timothy Russels vehicle at approximately 11:00 PM the night of November 29th.
24 bullets hit Malissa Williams.
23 bullets hit Timothy Russel.
Both Timothy and Malissa were killed instantly by police gunshots.
In context, Adam Lanza fired approximately 140 shots during the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
in Newton, Connecticut, resulting in the deaths of 28 people.
The same number of shots, in this case, was fired at two unarmed individuals in the dead-end parking
lot of a Middle School in East Cleveland.
After intial shots were fired, the shooting lasted approximately 17.8 seconds.
Thirteen officers were determined to have discharged their weapons:
- Patrol Officer Wilfredo Diaz (4 shots)
- Patrol Officer Michael Brelo (approximately 49 shots)
- Patrol Officer Cynthia Moore (19 shots)
- Patrol Officer Michael Farley (4 shots)
- Patrol Officer Brian Sabolik (4 shots)
- Patrol Officer Paul Box (1 shot – shotgun)
- Patrol Officer Randy Patrick (9 shots)
- Patrol Officer Scott Sistek (12 shots)
- Detective Michael Demchak (4 shots)
- Detective Erin O’Donnell (12 shots)
- Detective Christopher Ereg (6 shots)
- Detective Michael Rinkus(13 shots)
- Detective William Salupo (2 shots)
Police cruisers experienced notable damage from friendly fire.
Practically all of the ~100 officers involved in the end of the pursuit report mass confusion. Headlights and police
strobe lights from a large number of police vehicles were disorienting officers and hampering their view of what was
occurring (blinding and backlighting). Multiple sirens were sounding, adding to the chaos and making communications
difficult (both over the radio and in person). At this time, an inadvertent collision between the Russel's vehicle
and cruiser occurred, followed by the vehicle revving and Officer Diaz firing rounds.
“Shots fired, shots fired!” was transmitted across the radio with no indication as to who was firing (police or subjects).
This was followed shortly thereafter with the first “true” ramming of a police vehicle by the subject.
Patrol Officer Michael Brelo, who fired 49 shots, is a veteran of the Iraq War, who when interviewed considered
this event as more terrifying than anything he saw in the line of combat.
A major factor that contributed to the chaos that arose came as a direct effect of the "ambush training" many of the officers had
recently received prior to this event. "Ambush training" taught officers to shoot through their windshields, before then
moving behind their vehicle for cover from potential threats. Bulletholes in copcars' windshield, which
came as a consequence of this tactic, may have been perceived as the consequences of a firefight, thus fueling the fear for many
officer's that their fellow officers were being shot at.
Regardless of the actual threat level of the situation, officers legitimately feared for their lives and responded with extreme force.
Drug paraphernalia was found in Russel's car, supporting speculation that the reason for Russel's evation from police
custody was related to fear of drug prosecution: past police contacts with Timothy had resulted in similar attempts
to evade custody.
This particular event must be seen as an outrageous example of the sort of interaction the Cleveland Police
Dept. have with Cleveland's population on an all-too regular basis.
Such absurdity should never be routine. In the status quo, though, this sort of thing tragically already is.
In light of these facts, it is evident that a permanent advocacy organization focused on police misconduct must be formed.
Counself for the Russel family, Terry Gilbert, proposes the creation of a Cleveland Area Police Accountability Coalition
(CAPAC) could be a good start in making accountable area police forces for their actions.
As citizens. As brothers and sisters. As people confronted with profound challenges, WE MUST:
Be grateful for every breath. Always choose on the basis of love. Find systems that grind people down, and