Over 13 months ago, a 12-year-old boy carrying a toy gun was shot down in a Cleveland park on November 22, 2014. It took 401 days for a grand jury to exonerate the policemen, largely because of the prosecutor’s dragging his feet. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s rigorous defense of the police officers was to persuade the grand jury to not indict the officers. McGinty brought in his own expert witnesses for that purpose—almost never done in a grand jury—and then grilled the experts brought by a lawyer for Tamir Rice—again an anomaly in grand jury practice. The prosecutor’s leaking of negative information about the boy and selective use of information to excuse and defend the actions of the killers was background for his blame for the 12-year-old “man” with “gun,” a fake.
McGinty’s out-of-state experts, retired FBI agent Kimberly Crawford and Colorado-based S. Lamar Sims, have a history of sympathy toward police. Before he released his report, Sims defended the officers on television; Crawford’s memo on use of force by law enforcement was rejected by the Justice Department. Ignored were statements from experts Roger Clark and Jeffrey J. Noble that the prosecutors’ reports “contradicted one another, made unfounded assumptions and ignored principles of police training.”
McGinty characterized Timothy Loehmann as a “reasonable” officer. This is the man who resigned from a Cleveland suburban police office after he experienced an “emotional meltdown” during firearms training that made his facility with a handgun “dismal,” according to the instructor’s report. A letter in Loehmann’s file stated that he was “distracted” and “weepy” during firearms qualification training. Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police wrote:
“[Loehmann] could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal. I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.”
McGinty depicted Tamir Rice as big and scary. The prosecutor description Rice’s size and his carrying a toy gun indicated that Rice deserved the shooting and reinforced that the belief to many white people that black boys are older and more menacing. A former senior police official who helps a city government manage claims of excessive force or other wrongdoing by police officers in another city said that Frank Garmback’s driving up close to Rice was a “poor tactical decision”:
“That was a tactical decision that required the man to make a much more rapid decision. It looks like they could have stopped 100 or 200 yards away and taken cover.”
McGinty talked about the police officer’s concern because law enforcement officials had been killed previously near the park where Loehmann killed Rice. The shootings in 2006 and 1996 occurred long before Loehmann had been hired a few months earlier. Cleveland police officers work in many areas where violence has occurred. Michael Benza, a criminal law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said that race takes place in evaluating a person with a gun. He said that white people on the streets with assault-style rifles are treated much differently than black people:
“When [police] go into a neighborhood where there is a perception of danger and they see a big black guy that matches the description of a guy with a gun, they are going to act very differently than if they see a white guy with a gun in the suburbs.”
McGinty didn’t require the officers to testify. Instead they were allowed to submit their written the statements to the jury with no questioning. The prosecutor may have known that the story they told could not stand up to cross-examination.
The prosecutor said, “We don’t second-guess police officers.” Actually, the prosecutor’s job is to reexamine the police officers conduct and to question the appropriateness of their actions. This didn’t happen.
The caller told the dispatcher that the “guy” was a juvenile and that the “gun” was likely a toy. The dispatcher failed to communicate that to the officers.
Loehmann told the grand jury that Tamir was reaching for his waistband, but the surveillance video doesn’t show this before Loehmann shot him. A surveillance video shows Loehmann with his gun out of his holster and shooting Rice before the car stopped. Loehmann claimed that he ordered Tamir to drop his weapon multiple times, but he had no time to say that and not time for Tamir to respond if he said anything. No witnesses heard Loehmann say anything.
After Tamir Rice was shot in the torso, the police officers realized that he was a child with a boy but failed to render any medical aid. The child wasn’t given first aid until an FBI agent in the area arrived at the scene. Loehmann said he had a sprained ankle, and his partner was busy handcuffing Rice’s 14-year-old sister and putting her in the back of their cruiser.
When Rice arrived at the ER, doctors couldn’t intubate him because the police had said that he was an adult. The tube was too large to pass Tamir’s vocal cords. Instead they took him into OR where he hemorrhaged to death by early the next morning.
Judge Ronald B. Adrine had earlier “found that sufficient cause exists to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty.” He also found that Loehmann’s partner, Frank Garmback, could be charged with “negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.” Instead, the prosecutor defended Loehmann and Garmback.
Although the grand jury failed to indict Loehmann and Garmback, they will face a new administrative review. The investigative committee which includes civilians will begin all over, starting with the calls to 911. City Council member Jeffrey Johnson announced that he would ask the council to seek local charges of negligent homicide, the most serious charge that can be sought under city law. Conviction would mean only six months in jail, but the process would allow for another full review of the shooting. In addition to reviewing the conduct of the two officers, the Cleveland Police Department’s Critical Incident Review Committee will also determine whether the 911 call taker and dispatcher should face disciplinary charges.
McGinty has reinforced the growing belief in the United States that police are justified their killings if they perceive any threat to themselves–no matter how minor—even if their confrontation was unnecessary. Police may now take control of even situation, even ones that are not criminal, and kill people at will. Police no longer have any obligation to see a less violent situation before using lethal force.
Part of a police officer’s job is taking a risk, and it can be dangerous. More and more, however, police eschew risk through lethal means to guarantee safety for themselves at any cost to the people around them. The old mandate of “serve and protect” is now for police officers to protect themselves. Killing someone in this drive for self-protection and then exonerating them result in acceptance that this behavior is the norm, that police officers shouldn’t be held accountable.
Of the 1,125 people who were killed in the United States by police—about three each day—965 were shot to death. The number may be far greater because no official entity is keeping track of these travesties. The number of people killed by police far exceeds those who die from pneumonia and influenza, measles, and malaria and mumps. The rate of U.S. police killing in 2014 was 100 times that of England, 40 times that of Germany and 20 times the rate in Canada.
At least 90 of people killed by police were totally unarmed—no hammers, knives, or any other weapon. Forty percent of the unarmed men shot by police were black although black men make up just 6 percent of the country. Police say that they feel “under attack,” but only 34 of them have been killed in the line of duty during 2015.
Killings by police combined by exoneration of the killings have reached epidemic proportion.