Two Cleveland police officers will avoid federal criminal charges for their role in the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who carried a pellet gun when he was shot in 2014, the Department of Justice said on Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence in the high-profile case.
The announcement ended a five-year federal investigation into the actions of then-officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner Officer Frank Garmback, an investigation that was criticized by Tamir’s family and the government watchdogs as being deeply flawed and politically influenced.
Tamir’s murder became a catalyst for national judgment on police brutality and racial injustice, but the federal investigation languished under the Obama and Trump administrations. In 2019, two career prosecutors in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division were refused permission to use a grand jury to issue subpoenas for documents or testimony.
Justice Ministry officials said in a lengthy statement on Tuesday that they could not establish that the officers involved in Tamir’s murder willfully violated his civil rights or knowingly made false statements with intent. obstruct a federal investigation.
“This high legal standard – one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law – requires proof that the officer acted with specific intent to do something the law prohibits,” the ministry said. of Justice. “It is not enough to show that the officer erred, acted negligently, acted by accident or mistake, or even exercised poor judgment.”
The result of the extended review of the case angered the Rice family, who sued Cleveland over Tamir’s death. The city settled the case for $ 6 million in 2016, and Officer Loehmann was later fired for an unrelated violation.
“It was patently disrespectful that I had to learn from the media that the Justice Department closed the investigation, after career prosecutors recommended a grand jury be called,” Tamir’s mother Samaria Rice said on Tuesday. .
On November 22, 2014, Tamir was playing with a replica of a Colt pistol, posing with the realistic airsoft style pistol, which fired plastic pellets, at a local park when officers responded to a 911 call reporting someone with a gun. What the city’s multilayered 911 system failed to convey is that the appellant said the gun was “probably fake” and the person carrying it was “probably a minor”.
Mr. Loehmann, a rookie officer, shot Tamir in the abdomen at point blank range within two seconds of his patrol car arriving.
At the end of October, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department had quietly canceled its investigation into Tamir’s murder.
The Justice Department said on Tuesday it had analyzed surveillance video from a nearby recreation center, but the footage was grainy and failed to shed light on what had happened within seconds. preceded Tamir’s death.
“Although Tamir Rice’s death is tragic, the evidence does not meet these substantial evidentiary requirements,” the Justice Department said.
Subodh Chandra, a former federal prosecutor who represents the Rice family, said Tuesday the process had been tainted. “The Rice family has once again been deceived by a fair process,” Mr. Chandra said in an email.
Mr Chandra said the Justice Department ignored the Rice family’s request to report on the department’s internal discussions on the case and to make public the recommendations of the two prosecutors who sought permission to use a grand jury.
In 2015, a Cuyahoga County grand jury decided not to charge Constable Loehmann with a felony under state law. The decision, based on a recommendation from the county prosecutor, sparked protests.
Henry Hilow, an attorney with the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association who represented the two officers involved in the case, said Tuesday’s announcement by the Department of Justice was yet another assertion of the facts of the case.
“I agree with the Justice Department’s decision,” Hilow said in a voicemail message Tuesday night. “This is in line with the findings of the investigation by the Cuyahoga County District Attorney’s Office and all independent investigations.”
In 2017, Mr Loehmann was fired for lying about his job application in 2013, a violation that only came to light after authorities began investigating the police after Tamir’s death.
A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Police Division declined to comment on Tuesday evening.
In August, a lawyer for a government watchdog filed a whistleblower complaint with Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, accusing the department of mismanaging the case.
Lawyer David Z. Seide of the Government Accountability Project, who represents someone familiar with the case, said in an interview on Tuesday evening that the Justice Department’s investigation had grown so long that the statute of limitations for bringing charges of civil rights or obstruction. against officers had already expired.
“The tragedy of this case was that there was political interference which prevented the case from being investigated,” Seide said.