Tamir Rice report: Cleveland policeman who fired fatal shots said he had ‘no choice’
The white Cleveland policeman who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice told another officer he had “no choice” but to shoot the black boy as he clutched a toy weapon last year, according to details of an investigation made public Saturday.
“He reached for the gun and there was nothing I could do,” the other officer said Timothy Loehmann told him at the scene.
The FBI agent who arrived moments after the Nov. 22 shooting told investigators that Loehmann looked almost shell-shocked, according to the report.
“The officer seemed pretty concerned,” the unidentified agent said, according to a transcript of an interview with Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department investigators. “Obviously very concerned and uh, I don’t want to use the word, like — almost like shell shock; like they didn’t know what to do.”
The report, released by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, contains hundreds of pages of interview transcripts, police emails, medical examiner’s findings and ballistics reports. It makes no recommendation on whether criminal charges should be filed.
Loehmann shot Tamir after responding to reports of a person waving a gun. A 911 caller told police that the person was probably a child and that the gun was “probably fake,” but that information was not relayed to the rookie officer.
The veteran police dispatcher who took the 911 call has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, but refused to tell sheriff’s investigators why she did not tell the officers about the caller’s comments, the report said.
Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, did not cooperate with the Sheriff’s Department during its investigation, according to Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Assn. The officers did make statements to Cleveland police internal affairs and homicide investigators on the day of the shooting, Loomis previously told The Times.
Many of the documents in the report were redacted to “exclude personal information, confidential medical records and reports not germane to the events of Nov. 22,” McGinty said.
“Transparency (i.e., the actual facts) is essential for an intelligent discussion of the important issues raised by this case,” McGinty said in a statement released with the report. “If we wait years for all litigation to be completed before the citizens are allowed to know what actually happened, we will have squandered our best opportunity to institute needed changes in use-of-force policy, police training and leadership.”
McGinty’s office is conducting its own review of the shooting and plans to present the case to a grand jury this year.
The release of the report comes about a month after Tamir’s family complained that the investigation of the boy’s death had taken far too long. The Sheriff’s Department turned its findings over to McGinty’s office June 3, more than seven months after Tamir was shot.
Grand jury hearings in two other racially charged deaths at the hands of police — Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — were both completed within six months.
The FBI agent and others described a chaotic scene in the park where Tamir was shot, according to the report. Tamir’s brother charged toward officers and threatened them, according to the FBI agent. His sister was handcuffed and put in a police car.
Several officials who were at the park told detectives Tamir’s mother was screaming at officers. A Police Department supervisor indicated her actions may have slowed medical personnel in treating her son.
“I’m going to have all your jobs,” Tamir’s mother shouted, according to the report.
Tamir did not receive medical treatment until nearly 4 minutes after he was shot, according to the Sheriff’s Department investigation. Loehmann and Garmback radioed for help and told medical personnel to hurry, the report said.
Cleveland officers are given little medical training, a police supervisor told investigators, and none of the city’s cruisers are outfitted with first-aid kits.
Loehmann and his partner were able to provide the FBI agent with only rubber gloves when he asked for medical supplies, according to the report.
Though the FBI agent was the first to treat Tamir, Garmback helped clear the boy’s airway minutes later, the report said. Tamir died the next day in surgery.
This week, a Cleveland municipal judge found probable cause to charge Loehmann with murder and several other offenses, but the decision is advisory; whether to prosecute is likely to rest with a county grand jury. No charges have yet been filed.
Though the ruling has no legal bearing on the case, experts have said the fact that a sitting judge found probable cause to charge the officers could influence grand jurors, who unlike trial jurors are allowed to review media reports of a pending criminal matter.
Police have said Loehmann warned the boy to drop the weapon, and union leaders said he had no choice but to fire since he believed Tamir had a weapon.
Many of the officers who arrived that night and saw the toy gun on the ground told investigators the weapon looked real. One described it as an “authentic firearm.”
In separate interviews with investigators, the boy who lent Tamir the toy gun said he had disassembled it earlier in the week and was unable to reattach the orange tip to the barrel, which made it more closely resemble a real firearm.
Tamir’s death, like those of Garner and Brown last summer, has become a call to action for demonstrators who have staged protests throughout the U.S. in the last year.
Tension among prosecutors, residents and the police union has run high in recent months since another Cleveland police officer was acquitted on manslaughter charges for his role in a 2012 police chase that left two unarmed people dead.
In that case, prosecutors argued that the union was trying to insulate Officer Michael Brelo from criminal liability. Seven officers invoked their 5th Amendment rights at trial, including two who weren’t facing criminal charges.
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