- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - The prosecution of five white police supervisors in a predominantly black suburb for failing to stop a car chase that ended with two black people being killed in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire was put on hold Thursday by a state appeals court.

Attorneys for the supervisors filed a complaint with the Eighth District Court of Appeals on Wednesday arguing that the misdemeanor dereliction of duty charges filed against the supervisors in county court last year have priority over an identical set of charges filed last week in East Cleveland.

An initial appearance in East Cleveland Municipal Court scheduled for Friday has been canceled. A trial for the supervisors in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court is scheduled to begin July 27.

Attorneys for the supervisors have said they believe race is behind county prosecutor Tim McGinty’s push to have the case tried in East Cleveland, where the lone judge is black and a jury pool would come from a population that is 93 percent black. In comparison, about 30 percent of Cuyahoga County’s residents are black, as are about 53 percent of Cleveland’s residents.

Attorney Susan Gragel, who filed the complaint on behalf of the supervisors, said Thursday that she expects the appeals court to rule that the case should remain in county court.

“There’s never been a case where the tactic tried by the prosecutor in this case has been allowed,” Gragel said.

The attorneys for the supervisors also expressed skepticism about claims by McGinty that East Cleveland officials asked to have the trial moved to their city, where the car chase ended in a middle school parking lot on Nov. 29, 2012.

McGinty has said the county legal team that has been working on the case for months would prosecute the case in East Cleveland, one of the poorest cities in the state.

County prosecutors announced at a hearing June 4 that charges would be filed against the supervisors in East Cleveland. That announcement came days after the judge assigned to the supervisors’ case acquitted Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo, who is white, on manslaughter charges for having fired the last 15 shots of the barrage that killed driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams. Brelo’s acquittal sparked street protests.

When Brelo asked for a bench trial, McGinty argued unsuccessfully that it would deny black residents in Cuyahoga County the opportunity to sit on a jury. The supervisors are expected to ask Judge John P. O’Donnell instead of a jury to hear evidence and decide their charges. They’ve rejected a plea deal offer that would have led to the charges being dismissed if they agreed to say they endangered the lives of the public by not stopping the 22-mile-long chase, which began in Cleveland and involved more than 100 Cleveland officers.

A spokesman said before Thursday’s appellate ruling that the prosecutor’s office is not a party to the appeals court complaint and emailed a statement from McGinty that said the case belongs in a “misdemeanor court in the city where they committed their offenses.”

Thursday’s ruling requires East Cleveland Municipal Judge William Dawson to file a response by July 17. A call to Dawson on Thursday wasn’t immediately returned.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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