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Shielded From Justice: Officers in Tamir Rice Case Allowed to Give Written, Unsworn Statements to Grand Jury, as Family Calls for Prosecutor to Step Down


In Cleveland, a grand jury has been impaneled in the case of Tamir Rice, 12, who was fatally shot by police while holding a toy gun in a playground.  As part of the process to determine whether the officers will face prosecution in the case, two police officers involved in the Rice killing provided written statements to the county prosecutor.  The officers face criticism for avoiding accountability and not providing live, sworn testimony under oath, as they are shielded from scrutiny by the prosecutor, who has apparently gone out of his way to enable a pro-police narrative of the killing.  This, as their statements would seem to have glaring inconsistencies and present an unrealistic, if not humanly impossible account of the officers’ actions on November 22, 2014.

This marks the first time that the public has heard accounts from Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, the officers involved in the shooting death of Tamir Rice, the Washington Post reported.  Investigators reportedly sought the statements from the officers over six months ago.  The grand jury began hearing evidence five weeks ago, according to RT.  Further, Tamir’s mother, Samaria, and two of his siblings testified on Monday, according to the family lawyers.

The union representing the two officers said the men read their statements to the grand jury on Monday, according to the New York Times.  The officers were responding to a 911 call in which someone reported an individual, “probably a juvenile,” waving a gun “probably fake” in a park.  As the Times reported, the 911 dispatcher did not relay to the officers that the person was probably a juvenile and that the gun was likely not real.  In their statements, both officers said Tamir appeared older than he was, and that the boy reached for the toy gun beneath his waistband, at which point one of the officers reportedly opened fire.

“I thought the male was an adult. Over 18 years old,” said Garmback, according to RT. “I first saw the gun that the male had a gun about the time Ptl. Loehmann exited the cruiser. The male was pulling it from the right front area of his waistband. I thought the gun was real.”  Loehmann characterized Tamir as a “male who appeared to be over 18 years old and about 185 pounds.”

“We feared he was going to run into the Recreation Center. As the car was approaching, the suspect turned towards our car. Officer [Frank] Garmback attempts to stop the car as the male turned towards car,” Loehmann wrote. “As car is slid (sic), I started to open the door and yelled continuously ‘show me your hands’ as loud as I could. Officer Garmback was also yelling ‘show me your hands.’”

“I kept my eyes on the suspect the entire time. I was fixed on his waistband and hand area. I was trained to keep my eyes on his hands because ‘hands may kill,’” he added.

“You do not want to be a sitting target. The suspect had a gun, had been threatening others with the weapon and had not obeyed our command to show us his hands. He was facing us. This was an active shooter situation,” Loehmann wrote.  “I had very little time as I exited the vehicle. We are trained to get out of the cruiser because ‘the cruiser is a coffin.’ I observed the suspect pulling the gun out of the waistband with his elbow coming up. Officer Gamback and I were still yelling ‘show me your hands.’ With his hands pulling the gun out and his elbow coming up, I knew it was a gun and it was coming out…I fired two shots,” Loehmann added.

Attorneys for the Rice family say the statements are inconsistent and are contradicted by the video footage of the shooting.

“Loehmann, for example insists that he observed things and took action that would have been physically impossible for any human being to do in the under 2 seconds it took him to shoot a 12-year-old child,” the attorneys said, according to the Post. “While Loehmann claims to have issued at least three commands in under two seconds, Garmback admits the windows to the police vehicle were up, demonstrating that his partner’s claims are false.”

Loehmann’s lawyer argued that under the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the officers had no duty to give statements.  Meanwhile, the legal team representing the Rice family condemned the tactic of allowing the cops to issue unsworn statements, offering that such a move taints the legal proceedings.

“No ordinary citizen who is under investigation would be afforded this special treatment,” the Rice family’s attorneys said in a statement, as reported by the Post. “Submitting self-serving, unsworn written statements—rather than appearing live before the grand jury so that the officers’ versions of events are subject to vigorous cross examination—shows that these officers know their story will not withstand real scrutiny.”

The statements from officers Loehmann and Garmback come as independent use-of-force experts released reports this week calling the shooting “objectively unreasonable.”  The reports commissioned by Tamir Rice’s family—released by expert witness Jeff J. Noble, and Roger A. Clark, a 27-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department—conclude the officers employed an “unreasonable and unjustified use of deadly force,” and displayed a “callous disregard for the life of Tamir.”

The reports conflict with the three reports commissioned by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, which said the officers’ actions in shooting Rice were justified.  The family of Tamir Rice has called for McGinty to step down from the case.  Last week, on the anniversary of the killing, activists delivered a petition with 200,000 signatures demanding that McGinty step down and appoint a special prosecutor in the case.

“Tamir Rice’s death has inspired a national movement,” said Angela Peoples, co-director of GetEQUAL and an organizer of the petition drop. “The murder of a young Black boy in cold blood cannot, and will not, be ignored.”

Rian Brown, a Cleveland organizer agreed.

“The lack of attention to this case from those supposed to be responsible for seeking justice is inexcusable,” said  Brown. “Across the country, Black people are murdered by the police — and we refuse to accept that as a reality.”

“When you deliberately disobey police practical training and police procedures and create dangerous situations you should be held accountable for your actions,” said LaTonya Goldsby, Tamir Rice’s cousin.  “McGinty has distorted the truth to fit his own needs. He has manipulated the Grand Jury process, all while knowing officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback disobeyed police practical training and police protocol. McGinty must recuse himself from this case and allow for a competent investigation of Tamir’s death by a special Independent prosecutor from outside the state of Ohio, and Officers Loehmann and Garmback should both be immediately fired from their positions.”

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