Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, center, listens to the judge reading his verdict during his trial in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015.
Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, center, listens to the judge reading his verdict during his trial in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015.

The U.S. Justice Department says it will review the acquittal of a Cleveland police officer who fired through the windshield of a car at the end of a 137-shot barrage that left the two unarmed black occupants dead.

It said in a statement issued after a trial verdict Saturday that the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have been monitoring the investigation into the November 2012 high speed chase and shooting.  

The Justice Department said it will not review the testimony and evidence presented at the trial of police officer Michael Brelo but will determine if additional steps are available and appropriate.

Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio

Urging peace

On Saturday, Judge John O'Donnell said he could not determine that Brelo alone fired the fatal shots. The judge added that "the verdict should be no cause for a civilized society to celebrate or riot."

Protesters upset with the verdict engaged in small peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Cleveland.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said at a news briefing the protesters are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights but noted that city officials will not tolerate any violence.  He asked city residents to be patient in traffic disrupted by the protests.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson called the verdict a "defining moment" for his city and encouraged peaceful protests and dialogue.  

The acquittal came after a month of testimony in Brelo's trial in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in November 2012. Thirteen police officers fired at the pair's car after a high-speed chase, but only Brelo was criminally charged. The chase started after the car backfired while passing police headquarters in Cleveland, and officers thought a gun had been fired.

Prosecutors said he fired 15 rounds into the windshield while standing on the hood after the car had stopped. Brelo's lawyers said that other officers also fired during the end of the barrage and that prosecutors could not prove in what order the fatal shots were fired.

The acquittal, coming at a  time of tension across the United States following the deaths of black suspects at the hands of police, sparked protests in Cleveland. When the acquittal was announced a small protest was held outside the courthouse. Family members of Russell urged protesters to be peaceful.

The verdict comes as authorities are investigating two other high profile cases in Cleveland involving the deaths of black people at the hands of police.

Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice who was playing with a replica gun when he was shot by Cleveland police responding to an emergency call about a man with a gun.

Rice died a day after the shooting. Prosecutors are also investigating the death of Tanisha Anderson, who died while handcuffed in police custody last year. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide, citing her physical restraint by police as well as her mental illness and a heart condition.