Cleveland officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice will not face
Grand jury refused to indict Timothy Loehmann white officer and partner during filming of 12 years, citing a lack of evidence of criminal conduct
The white police officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice, an African-American 12-year-old will not face criminal charges, it was announced on Monday – more than a year after the shooting in Cleveland.
A grand jury refused to officially acknowledge Timothy Loehmann, who opened fire Tamir less than two seconds after coming to a park where 12-year-old was playing with a toy gun in partner November 22 Loehmann 2014, Frank Garmback, will also not face charges, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, announced at a press conference.
McGinty argued that Tamir’s death was caused by a “perfect storm of human errors, mistakes and communication problems for all involved that day,” but there was no evidence of criminal misconduct by the police. The two officers believed they were responding to an “active shooter potential situation” and had not been provided with critical details of a 911 call reporting that Rice was probably a child with a weapon that was “probably false,” McGinty said.
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“If officials had been aware of these qualifiers, the officer leading the formation could have approached the scene with less urgency; lives may not have been brought into play,” McGinty said.
Subodh Chandra, a lawyer for the mother of Tamir Samaria, said they had been given no information about the announcement beforehand and had learned that was carried out through a public statement made by the county prosecutor’s office about an hour before.
McGinty said he had spoken to Samaria Rice shortly before the decision was made public. “It was a difficult conversation,” McGinty said, adding “it broke”.
In a statement, the family of Tamir said they were “sad and disappointed” by the result, “but not surprised”.
“It has been clear for months now that Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty was abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment,” the statement said.
The family accused McGinty of mishandling the grand jury process, by hiring expert witnesses and allowing the officers to read prepared statements, which “compounded the grief of this family”.
Cleveland’s mayor, Frank Jackson, said the city would now begin an administrative review process of the incident, and would not comment on whether the grand jury’s decision not to charge the officers was an “appropriate outcome”.
“This has caused the city of Cleveland – with the loss of a child at the hands of a police officer – to do a lot of soul searching so that an incident like this will never happen again,” Jackson said.
The Rice family filed an amended civil case against the city in January. Two months later the city responded by arguing in a defense filing that Tamir’s own actions had “directly and proximately” caused his own death. The filing was followed by an apology from Jackson, who described the wording as “very insensitive”.
On Monday, McGinty argued that the civil lawsuit “may yet provide the Rice family with some of the accountability they deserve”.
Jackson also said the city would protect “everyone’s right to express themselves if they disagree with the grand jury’s decision. But your rights end when you do harm to people and property when expressing your opinion. Our position on that hasn’t changed.”
Despite the expectation of protests on Monday, Cleveland remained relatively quiet on a freezing night.
However, some people expressed their anger after the announcement. “We need to shut this city down,” said activist Art McKoy at a gazebo set up at the park where Tamir Rice was shot. The picnic table inside the gazebo still held many stuffed animals and candles left behind by Rice family supporters during the past year.
“The pastors and the politicians and the business leaders have all told us to keep quiet and we will get justice, but we can all see that that has not happened,” said McKoy, “We need to shut this city down so we can show that [no-billing of the officers] is not acceptable.”
About 30 people met at the gazebo in the early evening hours to share prayers and support each other. Earlier in the day, a few protesters had blocked traffic for a few minutes in front of the park, but they moved on fairly quickly.
“It is disappointing, but not surprising,” said Khalid Samad, another activist gathered at the park. Samad runs Coalition for a Better Life, a non-profit organization that promotes peace within Cleveland neighborhoods.
Sources in the prosecutor’s office told the Guardian that local business and political leaders had asked for the grand jury announcement to come during Christmas vacation time to limit the size of crowds.
The prosecutor’s handling of the grand jury process, which began in October, has been heavily criticised by the Rice family and local activists, after the prosecutor proceeded to drip-feed evidence seen by the grand jury to the public, which included reports from experts concluding that the shooting was justified.
Tamir Rice is ‘moral conscience’ for activists one year after fatal shooting
Neither Loehmann nor Garmback appeared before the grand jury, and instead provided unsworn statements that were read to jurors earlier in the month. Loehmann claimed he shot because Tamir pulled the pellet gun from his waistband, “had been threatening others with the weapon and had not obeyed our command to show us his hands”.
Tamir’s family argued it would have been impossible for the officers to have issued commands given the fraction of time that elapsed before shots were fired.
McGinty argued on Monday that a grainy enhanced CCTV image of the moment before Loehmann opened fire showed it was “indisputable that Tamir was drawing his gun from his waist”. McGinty said this single image was “perhaps the most critical piece of evidence” in the whole case.
“At the point where they suddenly came together, both Tamir and the rookie officer were no doubt frightened.” McGinty said. “If we put ourselves in the victim’s shoes, as prosecutors and detectives try to do, it is likely that Tamir, whose size made him look much older and who had been warned that his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day, either intended to hand it over to the officers or show them it wasn’t a real gun.
“But there was no way for the officers to know that because they saw events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective.”
The prosecutor pointed to a number of reforms that have been implemented in the county since Tamir’s death, including an agreement between the federal government and the Cleveland police department to reform use of force and other major policy issues, and the roll-out of body cameras and dashboard cameras. He also called on the manufacturers of toy guns to modify their designs.
“If the color and design of Tamir’s pellet gun had screamed toy, then the call that set this tragedy into motion may have never happened,” he said.
McGinty left the press conference without answering questions from reporters.
Samaria Rice had testified to the grand jury about the loss of her son. In a statement, her attorney said that she had asked the jurors whether the officers’ actions “could possibly be ‘reasonable’ or ‘justifiable’”. It said: “She believes that the answer is plainly no.”
Tamir’s death in 2014 followed the high-profile police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, which sparked a new civil rights movement across the United States and calls for reform of US policing.
Tamir’s family renewed their call on Monday for the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the shooting.
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