Hours after Tamir Rice’s family angrily criticized Cleveland for contending in legal documents that the 12-year-old was to blame for his death at the hands of a police officer, the mayor apologized Monday and said the city would amend its court filing.
Tamir, who was black, was shot to death by a white police officer in November. The incident was caught on video, which shows Tamir playing in a park with a cellphone and a toy gun that uses pellets. Police arrive, responding to a 911 call, and the boy is quickly shot.
In papers filed in federal court Friday, the city said Tamir was responsible for his own death and said the injuries, losses and damages were “directly and proximately caused by the failure of [Tamir] to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
On Monday, a Rice family attorney reacted angrily.
“That has to be the most incredulous comment I have ever heard,” Walter Madison said. “The family is just completely infuriated. They are still picking up the pieces of their lives and they have been obliterated by such an insult.”
Madison said 12-year-olds could not exercise adult judgment, and Cleveland appeared to be saying that they should.
“There are many things we don’t allow 12-year-olds to do,” he said. “We don’t allow them to vote, we don’t allow them to drink, because they don’t have the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions.”
Cleveland also argued that the city did not have enough information to respond in full to the Rice family allegations because the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office is still investigating Tamir’s death.
Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson disavowed the legal filings Monday, calling them “insensitive.”
“In an attempt to protect all of our defenses we used words and we phrased things in such a way that was very insensitive,” Jackson said. “Very insensitive to the tragedy in general, the family and the victim in particular.”
The city will file amended documents “that will deal with the insensitivity of the language and the characterization we use but also at the same time preserve the defense,” Jackson said.
The family originally filed a wrongful death suit in December, then amended it in January, contending that police officers and other city employees violated the family’s rights and failed to provide prompt medical care for Tamir, who died the next day.
The lawsuit also contends that the city falsely imprisoned Tamir’s sister, Tajai Rice, 14, who was tackled and restrained as she ran toward her brother screaming, “My baby brother! They killed my baby brother!”
The city formally responded in a 40-page document filed with the U.S. District Court in Ohio on Friday.
The case was one of several last year that ignited questions about policing and African Americans.
The Cleveland shooting was on Nov. 22, days before a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to charge a white police officer in the deadly shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Mo.
About a week later, a Staten Island grand jury declined to charge a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner, who died after officers put him in an apparent chokehold.
Both of those cases led to widespread demonstrations.