CLEVELAND (CN) - The firing of six police officers connected to the shooting of two unarmed, black suspects in 2012 prompted backlash Wednesday from union officials.
"Make no mistake, the decision to discipline our officers is shamefully political and is the direct result of the current and false narrative surrounding the facts and law enforcement throughout this country," said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association.
The union representing Cleveland's rank-and-file police officers issued the statement one day after Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced the firing of Michael Brelo and five other police officers connected to the 2012 shooting of Malissa Williams, 30, and Timothy Russell, 43.
More than six dozen officers had been involved in the high-speed chase on Nov. 29, 2012, that ended after 22 miles in East Cleveland, at a middle school parking lot, where 13 officers fired 137 shots at the couple.
Along with Brelo, the city on Tuesday fired patrolmen Wilfredo Diaz, Brian Sabolik and Michael Farley, and detectives Christopher Ereg and Erin O'Donnell.
Cleveland also suspended another six officers. Detective William Salupo will face a 21-day suspension, as will patrolmen Paul Box, Cynthia Moore, Randy Patrick and Scott Sistek. Detective Michael Rinkus was suspended for 22 days.
Michael Demchak, a 13th officer involved in the shooting, reportedly elected to retire to avoid discipline.
Though the officers believed that Russell and Williams had been shooting at police from their 1979 Chevy Malibu, no gun was found in the car.
Investigators later determined that officers mistook the sound of Russell's dilapidated car backfiring for gunshots.
Brelo, a former Marine, had been the only one of the officers to face criminal charges. Cuyahoga County prosecutors accused Brelo of jumping onto the hood of Russell's car after the other officers had stopped shooting, firing the 15 final shots through the windshield.
Judge John O'Donnell acquitted the 31-year-old of manslaughter last year, however, after finding no evidence that Brelo's shots were the ones that actually caused Russell and Williams' deaths.
The announcement of O'Donnell's verdict spurred a day of protests that ended with the arrest of 71 demonstrators, activists and journalists.
Williams and Russell's deaths also prompted an 18-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that concluded with a Dec. 4, 2014, report on the Cleveland police department's a pattern and practice of using unreasonable force, "including shootings ... (and head strikes with deadly weapons)."
Three days after Brelo's acquittal, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with the city to enact widespread reforms within the Cleveland Division of Police.
News of the firings and suspensions Tuesday prompted the police union to file grievances immediately on their behalf.
On Wednesday, Loomis emphasized that each of the disciplined officers cooperated in multiple investigations that found "all" of their actions were legally justified.
Loomis said the state's attorney general blamed the brass for the shooting by failing to correct "systemic failures in the policies and procedures."
These officials were promoted, but "three years later the city elected to discipline these officers for doing their jobs," Loomis said in a statement today.
Speaking to reporters outside the union hall Tuesday, Loomis accused Mayor Frank Jackson and Public Safety Director Michael McGrath of conducting a "kangaroo court."
Assuring reporters that all the officers fired, including Brelo, would get their jobs back, Loomis predicted that the ultimate cost of the "unprecedented" and "insane" disciplinary action would be shifted to the citizens of Cleveland.
"I promise you, they're gonna get their jobs back," Loomis said. "Every single one of them is gonna get their jobs back. And you guys out there, the taxpayers of the city, are gonna be paying the back pay and everything else that's gonna be associated with this."
Commander James Chura, chairman of the city's Critical Incident Review Committee, announced the firing with Mayor Jackson and McGrath.
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