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Cleveland police to suspend 63 officers after fatal car chase

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Cleveland Police Chief Mark McGrath announced on Tuesday that following an 11-month investigation his office will issue suspensions for 63 of the 104 officers involved in a 25-minute high-speed car chase that resulted in the fatal shooting of the driver and his passenger.

The officers will serve suspensions totaling 178 days, with the longest suspension 10 days, McGrath said, saying the officers were very honest and professional during the investigation.

The officers are being disciplined because of excessive speed, insubordination and failure to request permission to join the pursuit, he said.

On November 29, 2012, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams fled a traffic stop and led police on a chase that ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds at the car Russell was driving. The chase involved 63 police cars, according to the investigation.

The 13 officers directly involved in the shooting of Russell and Williams were not among those suspended and still may face discipline and possible criminal charges.

McGrath said many of the officers involved told the investigation they joined the chase because they thought Russell and Williams were shooting at police and they thought "a police officer was in trouble."

Officers involved reported shots fired from Russell's car that investigators now believe were the sound of his 1979 Chevy backfiring.

They also thought Williams, the passenger, had a weapon in her hand during the chase, according to the investigation. The investigation found no weapon and no gunshot residue on Williams's hands.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said on Tuesday that county prosecutors have not yet decided whether to bring criminal charges against the 13 officers directly involved in the shooting.

Jackson also said although the investigation had taken 11 months, "justice was not delayed for the victims" and that his office was "not throwing officers under the bus for political reasons and we're not covering anything up."

A lawyer for the families of Russell and Williams could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

In March, the U.S. Justice Department launched a review of Cleveland police policies over the possible use of excessive force by officers.

Nine Cleveland police department supervisors were suspended, two demoted and one was fired due to the way they handled the incident, McGrath said.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Brendan O'Brien, Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)

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