Prosecutors in Cleveland haven’t yet begun the grand jury process to determine whether officers will be charged for killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice two weeks ago, but the boy’s family members took matters into their own hands yesterday by filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Cleveland and the officers involved.
The suit, filed in federal court, doesn’t specify a dollar amount, but it claims the officers acted recklessly when they confronted Tamir and fired within seconds. The lawsuit guarantees that the officers will have to face a legal determination on the appropriateness of their actions, even if they aren’t indicted by a grand jury.
The lawsuit points out that the officers waited four minutes before medical assistance was provided to Tamir after he was shot.
While on the police side officials have defended rookie officer Tim Loehmann by saying he believed the boy had a real gun and Loehmann’s father has been quoted saying his son had no other choice, a ream of other news that has come out in recent days casts a great deal of doubt on Loehmann and the Cleveland police department.
As the lawsuit pointed out, police officials in Independence, Ohio, the town where Loehmann used to work, had decided Loehmann lacked the maturity needed to work in their department. They accused him of lacking discretion and not following instructions, leading to his resignation in December 2012 after meeting with his supervisors.
“In law enforcement there are times when instructions need be followed to the letter, and I am under the impression Ptl. Loehmann, under certain circumstances, will not react in the way instructed,” the letter from his Independence supervisors said.
But that didn’t stop Cleveland from hiring Loehmann.
In addition, the U.S. Justice Department released a devastating report this week that detailed the Cleveland Police Department’s “pattern or practice” of using unreasonable force in violation of the 4th amendment, including unnecessary shootings and head strikes with impact weapons, excessive use of lethal force and “the employment of poor and dangerous tactics.”
The report specifically noted how African-Americans view the department as targeting the African-American community for excessive force and brutality.
The Justice Department found that not only do Cleveland police officers too often use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution, but that “supervisors tolerate this behavior and, in some cases, endorse it.”
That report surely will not be helpful to the department in defending itself against the claims in the lawsuit. The suit points out that the 911 call said a young person was pointing a “probably fake” gun at people and the officers had a chance “to safely initiate their encounter from a safe distance but instead stopped their cruiser immediately next to young Tamir.”
“Young boys playing with replica guns are commonplace in America, and police are expected to approach them safely if an investigation is warranted, not shoot them dead within two seconds,” said the suit, which pointed out that Tamir was alone and not pointing the pellet gun at anyone when the officers arrived.