Tamir Rice Shooting Was Tragic but Reasonable: Prosecution Experts

Cory Shaffer, Cleveland, October 11, 2015

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office released reports Saturday from two experts in use of force by police who concluded that the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland officer was “tragic” and “heartbreaking,” but reasonable given that the officer believed the boy to be armed.

The reviews are the first of many sought by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty as his office prepares to present to a grand jury the case that thrust Cleveland into the heart of an ongoing national conversation on police violence.

Retired Virginia FBI agent Kimberly Crawford and Denver-area District Attorney S. Lamar Sims, nationally renowned experts on police use-of-force issues, each stressed that they did not look at whether Loehmann or his partner Frank Garmback violated Ohio laws, made tactical mistakes or broke with department policy in the moments leading up to the shooting.

They only examined the constitutionality of Loehmann’s decision to open fire on the boy during their two-second encounter.

“There can be no doubt that Rice’s death was tragic and, indeed, when one considers his age, heartbreaking,” Sims wrote in a 52-page analysis. “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.”

Both experts reviewed surveillance camera footage of the shooting and concluded that the fact that Tamir reached toward his waistband gave first-year officer Timothy Loehmann legal reason to consider him a threat and open fire Nov. 22 outside Cudell Recreation Center on the city’s West Side.

To make that decision, Crawford and Sims said they could only use the information Loehmann knew at the moment he shot Tamir and not the boy’s age or that the gun he carried was fake, two details that make the case unique among the dozens of use-of-force cases drawing scrutiny toward police forces across the United States.

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A man called 911 about 3:30 p.m. and reported a “guy” was taking a handgun in and out of his pants and pointing it at people. The man told the call-taker that the “guy” could have been a juvenile, and that the gun was “probably” fake, but those details did not get relayed to Garmback and Loehmann, who were the closest team of officers available.

Garmback, who was driving the police car with Loehmann in the front passenger seat, jumped the curb and drove between trees and a swing set directly beside the gazebo where Tamir sat.

As the car skidded to a stop in the mud, Tamir stood up and took a few steps to the car. Loehmann jumped out the passenger seat with his weapon in his hand. Tamir moved his hands toward his waistband and lifted his shirt. Loehmann fired two shots, hitting Tamir once in the abdomen.

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After the shooting, police learned that Tamir was 12 years old, and that the gun was actually a replica Colt 911 airsoft gun that shot plastic pellets. The gun’s orange safety tip, which indicated it was a toy, had been removed.

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Waiting to see if Tamir pulled out a gun would have created “an unreasonable risk,” Crawford wrote.

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Tamir’s family and civil rights organizations have called for the criminal indictment of both officers. {snip}

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McGinty stressed that the reports released Saturday are the first of many he expects to release as he works to present the case to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict the officers involved in the shooting.

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