White officer won’t face charges in killing of Cleveland boy
December 28, 2015
CLEVELAND — A grand jury Monday declined to indict a white rookie police officer in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a black youngster who was shot while playing with what turned out to be a pellet gun.
In explaining the decision, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said it was "indisputable" that the boy was drawing the pistol from his waistband when he was gunned down. McGinty said Tamir was trying to either hand the weapon over to police or show them it wasn't real, but the officer and his partner had no way of knowing that.
"Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police," McGinty said. He said patrolman Timothy Loehmann was justified in opening fire: "He had reason to fear for his life."
Tamir's family condemned the decision but echoed the prosecutor in urging those disappointed to express themselves "peacefully and democratically." Barricades were set up outside a Cleveland courthouse in case of protests, and about two dozen people gathered in the cold rain at the recreation center where Tamir was shot, some holding signs with photos of the boy and others killed by police in the U.S.
A grainy surveillance-camera video of the boy's November 2014 shooting provoked outrage nationally, and together with other killings of black people by police in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, it helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement.
There was no immediate comment from Loehmann or his partner, who was not charged either.
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Tamir was gunned down by Loehmann within two seconds of the officer's police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy. Loehmann and his white training partner, Frank Garmback, were responding to a 911 call about a man waving a gun.
Tamir was carrying a borrowed airsoft gun that looked like a real gun but shot nonlethal plastic pellets. It was missing its telltale orange tip.
The grand jury had been hearing evidence and testimony since mid-October.
In detailing the decision not to bring charges, McGinty said police radio personnel contributed to the tragedy by failing to pass along the "all-important fact" that the 911 caller said the gunman was probably a youngster and the gun probably wasn't real.
Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Meyer said it was "extremely difficult" to tell the difference between the pellet gun and a real one. And he said Tamir was big for his age — 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, with a men's XL jacket and size-36 pants — and could have easily passed for someone much older.
Before police arrived, the youngster was seen repeatedly drawing the gun from his waistband and pointing it at other children, Meyer said.
"There have been lessons learned already. It should never happen again, and the city has taken steps so it doesn't," McGinty said.
Among other things, the Cleveland police department is putting dashboard cameras in every car and equipping officers with bodycams.
Also, the police department reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department earlier this year to overhaul its use of force. The settlement was prompted largely by a car chase that ended with the killing of a couple in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire.
In a statement, Tamir's family said it was "saddened and disappointed by this outcome — but not surprised." It accused the prosecutor of "abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment."
Among other things, the family charged that McGinty improperly hired use-of-force experts to tell the grand jury that Loehmann's actions were reasonable.
The family renewed its request for the U.S. Justice Department to step in and conduct "a real investigation." Federal prosecutors in Cleveland noted Monday that a civil-rights investigation into the case is already underway.
In addition, Tamir's family has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the two officers and the city.