US cop acquitted after shooting death of two African Americans
Michael Brelo (Photo: AFP)

Cleveland, United States (AFP) — A Cleveland officer who shot several rounds through a windshield from the hood of a car, killing two unarmed African Americans in 2012, was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter Saturday.

Michael Brelo was acquitted by a judge in Ohio, who acknowledged that the United States is grappling with recent incidents of alleged police brutality and racial profiling.

Brelo, a 31-year-old white police officer, shot 15 rounds standing atop the Chevy Malibu in which Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were killed on November 29, 2012.

The African-American pair caught police attention after the car they were in backfired as it drove past Cleveland police headquarters.

Police chased the vehicle after hearing the noise, which they thought was a gunshot.

Judge John O'Donnell found Brelo not guilty on the two charges of voluntary manslaughter and also acquitted him of felonious assault.

Prosecutors said Brelo shot a total of 49 shots, and said the final 15 were unjustified because the pair was no longer able to flee the scene and therefore no longer posed a danger.

The judge warned that no single case can erase tension between the police and the public -- which has heightened with several high profile deaths of unarmed blacks by police in recent months.

"The suspicion and hostility between the police and the people won't be extirpated by a verdict in a single criminal case," O'Donnell said.

The case comes in the same city where Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy carrying a toy gun, was fatally shot in November on a playground, in a shocking incident caught on surveillance video.

Rice is the youngest of a number of African Americans whose deaths at the hands of law enforcement stirred a national debate about police conduct and race relations.

In the most recent racial unrest, riots erupted in Baltimore last month after the death of a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, from injuries suffered in police custody.

Six police officers were indicted over his death, and the US Justice Department has launched a federal probe into police practices in Baltimore.

Racial tensions have flared across the United States since last summer when the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.

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