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Officer won’t face charges in killing of Cleveland boy

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    This Nov. 25, 2014, file photo shows demonstrators blocking Public Square in Cleveland, during a protest over the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

CLEVELAND » A grand jury today declined to indict a white police officer in the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy 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 who are disappointed to express themselves “peacefully and democratically.” Barricades were set up outside the county courthouse in Cleveland 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 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 after the decision. An attorney for Loehmann’s partner, patrolman Frank Garmback, called the shooting a “tragic incident” but said it’s clear the officers “acted within the bounds of the law.” The grand jury also declined to indict Garmback.

Tamir was shot by Loehmann within two seconds of the officers’ police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy. Loehmann and Garmback were responding to a 911 call about a “guy” pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people. Tamir was carrying a borrowed airsoft gun that looks like an actual firearm but shoots nonlethal plastic pellets. It was missing the orange tip that is supposed to show that it’s not a real weapon.

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 juvenile 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 the firearm its modeled after. And he said Tamir was big for his age — 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds — and appeared much older than 12.

McGinty also noted that the neighborhood has a history of violence and that a short distance away are memorials to two Cleveland police officers fatally shot in the line of duty. McGinty said the city has taken steps to prevent this kind of shooting from happening again.

The Cleveland police department plans to put dashboard cameras in every patrol car. Officers who work the streets have been equipped with bodycams since September. The city also reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice this year to institute numerous reforms, including an overhaul of the police department’s use-of-force policies. The settlement was prompted in part by a November 2012 high-speed 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 Department of Justice to step in and conduct “a real investigation.” Federal prosecutors in Cleveland noted Monday that a civil rights investigation into the shooting is already underway.

Also, Mayor Frank Jackson said the city and the police department will conduct an internal review that could result in disciplinary action against the two officers, who were removed from street duty and have been on restricted duty since the shooting.

Tamir’s family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two officers and the city.

McGinty said it was a “tough conversation” with Tamir’s mother when she was told there would be no charges.

“She was broken up, and it was very hard,” the prosecutor said.

Loehmann opened fire from a distance estimated at 4 1/2 to 7 feet, getting off two shots, one of which missed.

“With his hands pulling the gun out and his elbow coming up, I knew it was a gun and it was coming out,” Loehmann said in a statement he read to the grand jury. “I saw the weapon in his hands coming out of his waistband, and the threat to my partner and myself was real and active.”

After the boy’s killing, it was learned that Loehmann had washed out from the police force in suburban Independence. Loehmann had a “dismal” handgun performance, broke down in tears at the gun range and was emotionally immature, according to documents. He quit that department before he could be fired.

Steve Loomis, the head of Cleveland’s largest police union, said the organization was pleased with the grand jury’s finding but added the decision “is no cause for celebration, and there will be none.”

McGinty urged those who disagree with the grand jury decision to react peacefully and said: “It is time for the community and all of us to start to heal.”

Outside the recreation center, protesters chanted, “No justice, no peace!” Art Blakey, of Cleveland, held a sign that read, “Indict, Convict, Send Killer Cops to Jail!” He said he wasn’t surprised by the grand jury decision.

“There never has been any justice in these police murders,” he said. “We’re supposed to swallow these things whole as if this is business as usual.”

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Associated Press reporters Mitch Stacy, Kantele Franko and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, John Seewer in Cleveland and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this story.

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  • Regarding: “Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said it was “indisputable” that the boy was drawing the weapon from his waistband when he was gunned down — either to hand it over to police or to show them that it wasn’t a real firearm. But McGinty said there was no way for the officers on the scene to know that.”

    IMHO… cop’s NOT guilty of any crime.
    How would you have reacted under similar circumstances ?
    Even a black police officer would have done the same thing.

    Just an unfortunate event all around.

  • Interesting and racist the headline “white officer won’t face charges”. The SA avoids naming blacks as the perpetrators of most crimes committed, and the SA “censor” complained to this writer about naming blacks as the criminals. Now the SA racially puts out this racially charged headline. What’s going on with SA? Hypocrites.

  • Apparently, cops are taught to use their guns as first resort and to shoot to kill. Seeing that there was no one in immediate danger, they could not stop their car at some distance and use their loudspeaker to tell the kid to drop the “weapon”. No, they drove right up to the kid and shot him immediately. If that was a man in camouflaged clothing holding an AR-15, would they have done the same? If so, police needs to review how they train their officers. There were other, less deadly, ways of diffusing the aituation. That is the main point in many of the shooting incidents.

    • engineer, agree. Something is drastically wrong, when cops shoot almost immediately upon arriving on the scene. Police nationwide need more training. Whatever happened to rubber bullets, bean bags, tazers and other “less than lethal” weapons?

      • Yes, poor judgment was displayed by the officers deliberately skidding their patrol car right up to the suspect thus putting themselves in a needlessly vulnerable position. Had a standoff distance been maintained, the situation would have resolved itself peacefully; a split-second judgment call would not have been necessary to justify a homicide.

  • As we have seen over and over, only the Prosecutor talks to the grand jury, spinning the story so the Jury gives them the verdict they have already decided on. There is no one there to speak for the victim. Just the way the Prosecutor wants it, making their job easy.

    Watching the video it is plain to see the cops set themselves up for failure due to improper training, failure by their supervisor to ensure they knew how to do their jobs. By pulling up right next to the kid and not giving themselves time to think, the already planned to execute him. Rookie cops all the way.

    What they should have done is pull up a safe distance away, stayed behind their car, called out to the child to either put their hands up or lay down on the ground, hands spread. Then they could have safely gone up to the child and learned the entire story.

    Sad to say the Prosecutor is just trying to cover up willful incompetence by not only the police but his office. Stupid is as stupid does.

  • I have never before heard of a police recruit or sworn officer who “broke down in tears on the gun range.” Emotionally immature police officers I have known of, but the shedding of tears during target practice is something beyond the pale. As the saying goes, “How did he ever get a job?”

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