CLEVELAND – After more than a year of investigation, a grand jury declined to bring charges against either of the two police officers involved in the fatal November 2014 shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy weapon in a Cleveland park.
In announcing the decision here Monday, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he did not recommend that the grand jury bring any charges. McGinty added that he believes both of the Cleveland police officers involved in the deadly encounter were reasonable in their belief that Rice had a real weapon, and that new analysis of the video of the shooting leaves it “indisputable” that the boy was pulling the weapon from his waistband when he was killed.
“The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it,” McGinty said. “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.”
Rice was fatally shot by officer Tim Loehmann, a rookie on the Cleveland police force, on Nov. 22, 2014, as the young boy played with a toy gun in a public park. The grand jury also reviewed the actions of Loehmann’s partner, Frank Garmback. The officers said in statements released earlier this month that Rice appeared much older and reached for the toy gun that was tucked in his waistband before Loehmann shot at him.
Police officers are rarely charged after on-duty shootings. There have been at least 975 police fatal shootings in the United States this year, according to a Washington Post database; officers have been charged with a crime in just eight of those shootings.
Prosecutors and grand juries have also indicted a number of officers this year for fatal shootings that occurred in previous years.
McGinty said that the shooting death of Rice did not meet the standard of a crime.
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy but it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime,” McGinty said, before adding that he informed Tamir’s mother of the decision before announcing it publicly. “It was a tough conversation. . . . She was broken up.”
In a statement issued not long after the prosecutor’s announcement, attorneys for Tamir Rice’s family decried the grand jury process and renewed their calls for the Department of Justice to bring federal charges.
“It has been clear for months now that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty was abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment,” the family attorneys said. “Even though video shows the police shooting Tamir in less than one second, Prosecutor McGinty hired so-called expert witnesses to try to exonerate the officers and tell the grand jury their conduct was reasonable and justified. It is unheard of, and highly improper, for a prosecutor to hire ‘experts’ to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio said Monday that federal officials monitored the grand-jury process, and that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is currently conducting its own independent investigation into Rice’s death.
“We will continue our independent review of this matter, assess all available materials and determine what actions are appropriate, given the strict burdens and requirements imposed by applicable federal civil rights laws,” the office said in a statement.
Tamir Rice’s death came just days before massive protests and unrest would break out in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City after officers in those cities were cleared in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
The deadly shooting here prompted a round of protests that at times blocked freeways and interrupted public meetings, with local residents demanding indictments for Loehmann and Garmback. Local activist groups vowed on Monday, a cold and rainy day here, to again take to the streets, and Mayor Frank Jackson urged calm during a late afternoon news conference.
And, though some protesters gathered, all remained calm in downtown Cleveland and at the Cudell Recreation Center, the westside park where Rice was killed. By 3:45 p.m. some demonstrators had begun to gather, with signs demanding “Justice for Tamir Rice” and declaring the boy “stolen by law enforcement.”
On the day of the shooting, the two officers were responding to a call about a young man with a gun who was pointing it at people outside a local recreation center. Although the caller specified to the dispatcher that the person in question was possibly a child playing with a toy, that information was not relayed to the officers and the officers responded to the call as an “active shooter” situation, authorities said.
The officers approached the park from a side street, pulling directly up on the grass where Tamir was playing rather than approaching from the paved parking lot.
“I made the decision to approach the park from West 99th,” Garmback, who was driving the cruiser, said in his statement. “West 99th dead ends at the park, very near the swing set. From there I knew we would have a good view of the swing set, and good access, if necessary, as that is where the male was reported to be.”
Tamir Rice was not at the swing set, having moved to a nearby gazebo.
“I believed at first the male was going to run,” Garmback said. “I think I told my partner ‘watch him he’s going to run.’ However he stopped and turned toward the cruiser.”
Both officers said that, as their cruiser continued to drive toward the boy – now on the snow-covered grass – they were moving at about 10 miles per hour, and that when they attempted to stop, the car slid.
As that happened, “I started to open the door and yelled continuously ‘show me your hands’ as loud as I could,” Loehmann said in his statement.
“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.'”
The officer said that, as he exited the car, he saw Tamir lift his shirt and reach into his waistband; Loehmann said he attempted to run to the back of the vehicle.
“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,” Loehmann wrote. “This was an active shooter situation.”
Loehmann said that he then saw Tamir Rice’s elbow moving upward, and that the weapon was coming up out of his waistband so he fired two shots.
“I saw the weapon in his hand coming out of his waistband,” he wrote. “The threat to my partner and myself was real and active.”
McGinty and other officials from the prosecutor’s office said Monday that they believed the officers’ story, noting that the toy gun appeared identical to a real weapon, that the 12-year-old looked much older than he was, and that both officers behaved in ways consistent with the Cleveland police’s policies for dealing with an “active shooter” situation.
And, McGinty added in a news conference Monday afternoon, an enhanced video of the shooting showed that Tamir Rice was reaching into his waistband and pulling out the toy weapon.
“If we put ourselves in the victim’s shoes, as prosecutors and detectives try to do, it is likely that Tamir – whose size made him look much older and who had been warned that his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day – either intended to hand it to the officers or to show them it wasn’t a real gun,” McGinty said. “But there was no way for the officers to know that because they saw the events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective.”
leveland police sent the case to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, which later provided its investigation to McGinty’s office in order to determine whether charges would be filed. As the investigation stretched from weeks to months, and eventually past the one-year mark, the Rice family and civil rights activists grew increasingly agitated – convinced that no charges for the officers were coming.
McGinty opted for a gradual release of evidence, giving the media access to expert witness reports and other evidence even as the grand jury proceedings continued – an unusual move that the prosecutor said was intended to provide transparency, but that attorneys for Rice’s family insist was meant to telegraph that McGinty would not be charging the officers.
“Tamir Rice’s death was a heartbreaking tragedy and I understand how this decision will leave many people asking themselves if justice was served,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said in a statement. “We all lose, however, if we give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us. We have made progress to improve the way communities and police work together in our state, and we’re beginning to see a path to positive change so everyone shares in the safety and success they deserve. When we are strong enough together to turn frustration into progress we take another step up the higher path.”
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D) said in a statement that that McGinty’s decision to release pieces of evidence throughout the ongoing investigation tainted the process, and that he should have stepped aside and allowed for a special prosecutor.
“Although the grand jury decision may be the right one, we will never know because the prosecutor refused to step down and allow an independent review,” Fudge said. “The prosecutor conducted the investigation in a manner that I believe inappropriate and as a result he has lost the trust and confidence of our community, and, indeed, mine as well. I accept the decision, but the means do not justify the end.”
Among the pieces of evidence released in recent months were the reviews of two independent experts hired by McGinty, which found that Loehmann acted reasonably in shooting Tamir.
“There can be no doubt that Rice’s death was tragic and, indeed, when one considers his age, heartbreaking,” S. Lamar Sims, a prosecutor from Colorado, said in his report. “However . . . I conclude that Officer Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat.”
By 4:40 p.m. about three dozen demonstrators had gathered at the gazebo where Rice was shot for a moment of silence, joining hands in the rain. After a few minutes, they broke the silence with chants of “no justice, no peace” and embarked on a march across the city to the Justice Center.
“Personally, I feel that (the decision not to indict) is a burden on the family and the community. But at the same time it’s a burden on the police department,” said Carlos Arroyo, an activist with the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance. “They had an officer that had to act in a way that he’s going to have to live for the rest of his life knowing that a 12 year old boy lost his life. So its just pain all the way around for our community.”
Lowery and Chokshi reported from Washington