The family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Black boy who was killed by a white Cleveland police officer while playing with a toy gun nearly a year ago, says that the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor “has been on an 11-month quest to avoid providing that accountability.”
Rice was killed on November 22 while playing with a pellet gun on a playground, as surveillance video revealed. Police arrived after a man called 911 claiming someone was pointing a gun at people that was “probably fake.” Within two seconds of arriving at the scene, Officer Timothy Loehmann fired at Rice, who was taken to the hospital and died the next morning.
The orange markings on the toy gun, which ejected nonlethal projectiles, had been removed.
Subodh Chandra, counsel for the family of Tamir Rice, posted a statement on Facebook in response to Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, releasing two supposed “expert reports” in an attempt to clear the officers who were involved in the Black child’s death.
“The Rice family and Clevelanders have always said that they want the officers who rushed upon and killed 12-year-old Tamir held accountable. The family now believes that the prosecutor’s office has been on an 11-month quest to avoid providing that accountability,” Chandra wrote. “Any presentation to a grand jury—without the prosecutor advocating for Tamir—is a charade. To get so-called experts to assist in the whitewash—when the world has the video of what happened—is all-the-more alarming.”
The attorney added, “These hired guns—all pro-police—dodge the simple fact that the officers rushed Tamir and shot him immediately without assessing the situation in the least. Reasonable jurors could find that conduct unreasonable. But they will never get the chance because the prosecutor is working diligently to ensure that there is no indictment and no accountability.”
“Who will speak for Tamir before the grand jury?” Chandra asked. “Not the prosecutor, apparently.”
Chandra also noted that McGinty’s office did not offer the courtesy of providing the Rice family and their counsel copies of the reports. Meanwhile, the media were apparently provided copies of the reports hours ahead of time, and the Rice family had to learn about their release through media reports.
The Cuyahoga prosecutor released dual independent reports—one by a retired FBI agent and the other from a Denver prosecutor—concluding the rookie police officer used a reasonable amount of force following the 911 call claiming a man was waving and pointing a gun, as NPR reported.
McGinty, who said the reports were released in the interests of being “as public and transparent as possible,” requested the outside reviews as it presents evidence to a grand jury to decide whether Loehmann is to be charged in Rice’s death.
“We are not reaching any conclusions from these reports,” the county prosecutor said in a statement. “The gathering of evidence continues, and the grand jury will evaluate it all.”
According to retired FBI agent Kimberly A. Crawford, Loehmann’s use of force did not violate the boy’s constitutional rights, and that the only facts important to the case are those the officer had when he fired his gun. Crawford concluded that Loehmann “had no information to suggest the weapon was anything but a real handgun, and the speed with which the confrontation progressed would not give the officer time to focus on the weapon.” “It is my conclusion,” she added, “that Officer Loehmann’s use of deadly force falls within the realm of reasonableness under the dictates of the Fourth Amendment,” although she noted she was making no conclusion regarding whether Loehmann violated state law or department policy, according to NPR.
Further, Lamar Sims, the Denver chief deputy district attorney, also concluded that Loehmann’s actions were reasonable based on witness statements and given a reconstruction of the course of the day’s events.
“The officers did not create the violent situation,” Sims wrote, arguing the officers did not know if the pellet gun was real when they arrived on the scene. “They were responding to a situation fraught with the potential for violence to citizens,” he added, concluding Loehmann was in great peril because he was within feet of Tamir as the boy approached the patrol car and reached for his waist.
“It looks as though the prosecutor is trying to taint the grand jury process as well as manipulate the judicial process overall,” said Edward Little, one of the so-called Cleveland 8, a group of clergy, academics and activists calling for indictments of the officers involved in the Rice shooting.
According to the Huffington Post, Little said the release of the reports was reminiscent of the Michael Brown death in Ferguson, Missouri, in which details of the case were leaked to the press before a grand jury declined to charge officer Darren Wilson.
“This community has lost all hope in this prosecutor to be fair and impartial,” Little added.
“This is a very transparent attempt to undermine the ability to receive justice for Tamir Rice and his family,” said Arisha Hatch of the civil rights group Color of Change.
“It’s Mike Brown all over again. The police are working their tactics to make sure the family don’t get that day in court,” said Tory Russell of the Ferguson-based group Hands Up United, to the Huffington Post.
The Tamir Rice case has brought further scrutiny to the use of deadly force against Black people by law enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland have proceeded with a consent decree after the federal agency found that Cleveland police violated the rights of citizens and engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, a white officer was acquitted in the 2012 murder of two Black motorists who were killed by police in a barrage of 137 bullets following a high-speed chase.