Cleveland police officer not indicted in fatal shooting of Tamir Rice

1/1/2016, 9:14 a.m.
National civil rights leaders are expressing disappointment and calling for new policies after a Cleveland grand jury on Monday refused …

By Hazel Trice Edney

National civil rights leaders are expressing disappointment and calling for new policies after a Cleveland grand jury on Monday refused to indict the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice only seconds after encountering him with a toy gun.

“Has the value of the lives of our children been reduced to a decision made in less than 2 seconds? That is the amount of time it took for one officer to decide whether Tamir Rice should die — less than 2 seconds,” said national NAACP President Cornell Brooks, in a statement.

“Life and death decisions are made every day by police officers across the country,” he added, “but the benefit of the doubt is often given in the preservation of white lives while the presumption of guilt, dangerousness and suspicion, time after time, is reserved for black lives.”

Monday’s grand jury decision came more than a year after the Nov. 22, 2014, fatal shooting. In the incident, police were called by a man describing a person with a gun, but told police dispatchers that the person could be a child and that the gun could be a toy. That information was never communicated to the officers.

When police arrived on the scene at Cudell Park, rookie Officer Timothy Loehmann pulled out his revolver and opened fire upon Tamir within seconds. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty told the media that Tamir was reaching into his waistband for the toy gun, prompting Officer Loehmann to shoot. He said the toy was “indistinguishable” from a real gun even as Officer Frank Garmback, who was driving, pulled up less than 7 feet from the youngster.

“The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it … The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy. But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime,” Mr. McGinty said to media. 

National Action Network’s Al Sharpton said he is appalled but not surprised “given the behavior and tone displayed by prosecutor Tim McGinty all year.”

In part, Mr. Sharpton was referring to Mr. McGinty’s release to the public opinions of two independent experts saying that Officer Loehmann had acted reasonably.

Mr. Sharpton called for a special national prosecutor to monitor cases like Tamir’s.

Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, also blamed the prosecutor. In a statement released after Monday’s ruling, she said, “After this investigation, which took over a year to unfold, and Prosecutor McGinty’s mishandling of this case, we no longer trust the local criminal justice system, which we view as corrupt.”

Her statement continued, “Prosecutor McGinty deliberately sabotaged the case, never advocating for my son, and acting instead like the police officers’ defense attorney. In a time in which a non-indictment [of police officers] who have killed an unarmed black child is business as usual, we mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice.

“In our view, this process demonstrates that race is still an extremely troubling and serious problem in our country and the criminal justice system ... As the video shows, Officer Loehmann shot my son in less than a second. All I wanted was someone to be held accountable. But this entire process was a charade,” she said.

The ruling culminates several end-of-the-year disappointments in the escalating movement for police and law enforcement accountability around the nation. They include:

• On Dec. 21, a grand jury decided to make no indictments in the case of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a Texas prison cell in July. Ms. Bland’s case went viral after video of a white cop was shown arresting her after she refused to put out a cigarette when she was pulled over for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. Police say she committed suicide.

• On Dec. 16, the Baltimore trial of police Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury. He was the first of six officers accused in the April 19 death of Freddie Gray, who died of a severed spinal cord sustained during an arrest. The Gray case led to numerous protests and a riot in late April. Officer Porter will be retried in June.

• Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is dealing with yet another police shooting amid calls for him to step down. Bettie Jones, 55, a neighbor of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, was killed as police shot at Mr. LeGrier as he reportedly hurled a baseball bat during what the police described as a domestic situation Dec. 27. Mayor Emanuel rushed home from his holiday vacation to deal with the fallout.

The latest fatal shooting in Chicago comes amid protests and a federal investigation related to the October 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald. Recently released police dashcam video shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the 17-year-old 16 times as he walked away from police holding a pocket knife.

Still, the wins appear to outweigh the losses as police cameras and indictments in cases of police misconduct appear to be growing. This can be traced directly to pressure from groups such as Black Lives Matter, the use of videos to prove police misconduct and the spread of protest strategies by social media that are forcing national media to publicize the cases.

Free Press wire reports contributed to this article.