The rookie Cleveland police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old boy last year acted with justified force, two outside experts have determined.
Tamir Rice was wielding an air pistol at an outdoor recreation center on Nov. 22 when he was shot by Timothy Loehmann, an officer-in-training. Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, were responding to 911 calls of a man pointing a gun at people in the area.
Video released shortly after the incident shows that Garmback drove his police cruiser to within feet of Rice. Loehmann is seen jumping out of the vehicle and firing two shots almost immediately. The bullets struck Rice in the stomach. He died the next day.
The case has generated national outrage, especially given Rice’s age. It also occurred amid widespread protest over police-involved killings of black men. Rice was black. Both Loehmann and Garmback are white.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury is currently considering whether to charge the two officers.
In one of the independent reports, released Saturday by the Cuyahoga prosecutor’s office, S. Lamar Sims, the senior chief deputy district attorney in Denver, determined in his report that Loehmann’s response was “objectively reasonable.”
“The officers did not create the violent situation — they were responding to a situation fraught with the potential for violence to citizens,” Sims wrote.
He also states that neither Rice’s age nor the fact that he was wielding a pellet gun should be considered a factor in determining if the shooting was justified.
“The statements of the witnesses compel the conclusion a reasonable officer responding to the call would have believed Rice was an older teen or young adult,” Sims wrote, noting that Rice was 5’7″ and 195 pounds.
Garmback told a police dispatcher that he believed Rice was 20 years old. A detective at the scene said he believed Rice was 17 or 18.
“There can be no doubt that Rice’s death was tragic and, indeed, when one considers his age, heartbreaking,” Sims wrote. “However, for all of the reasons discussed herein, 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.”
The second report, compiled by Kimberly Crawford, a retired special agent with the FBI’s legal instruction unit, came to a similar conclusion.
She wrote that “in light of the foregoing [facts], the only relevant facts are those possessed by Officer Loehmann at the moment he fired his weapon.”
“Following universal training and procedures, Officer Loehmann’s attention would be focused on Rice’s hands as they moved towards his waist band and lifted his jacket,” Crawford wrote, adding that “unquestionably, the actions of Rice could reasonably be perceived as a serious threat to Officer Loehmann.”
“Considering Officer Loehmann’s close proximity to Rice and lack of cover, the need to react quickly was imperative. Delaying the use of force until Officer Loehmann could confirm Rice’s intentions would not be considered a safe alternative under the circumstances.”
In a statement, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said that the release of the reports shows that his office is taking a more transparent approach to police-involved shootings.
“This approach by our office has ended the protocol of total secrecy that once surrounded the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers,” McGinty said. “When a citizen is purposefully killed by police, the results of the investigation should be as public and transparent as possible. No longer will the public just receive a conclusion from the County Prosecutor.”
He also dinged the Cleveland police union for taking “a short-sighted position by refusing to cooperate with this investigation and others.” Neither Loehmann nor Garmback agreed to be interviewed by the sheriff’s department or the independent investigators.
An attorney for Rice’s family is not buying McGinty’s claim that the release of the reports mark a shift towards transparency. He believes the “pro-police” reports were released in order to taint the case in favor of Loehmann and Garmback.
“Any presentation to a grand jury — without the prosecutor advocating for Tamir — is a charade,” Subodh Chandra said, according to CNN. “To get so-called experts to assist in the whitewash — when the world has the video of what happened — is all the more alarming.”
The independent reports did not address two other controversial aspects of the case.
Neither officer rendered aid to Rice after he was shot. An FBI agent who happened to be in the area at the time of the shooting provided medical aid to Rice several minutes after the shooting. Loehmann and Garmback were reportedly in a state of shock and unsure what to do.
Loehmann also had a spotty job history. In Nov. 2012, the chief of the Independence, Ohio police department gave Loehmann a “dismal” handgun performance rating. Loehmann also “could not follow simple directions,” according to the chief, Jim Polak. Loehmann quit the force shortly after. (RELATED: Police Officer Who Shot 12-Year-Old Ohio Boy Had ‘Dismal’ Performance Rating)
In Sept. 2013, Loehmann failed the cognitive written portion of an exam for the Cuyahoga sheriff’s department. He scored 46 out of 70 on the test. He was hired by the Cleveland police department the following March.
The outside reports follow one released in June by the Cuyahoga County sheriff’s department. In that report, investigators determined that it was unclear whether Loehmann issued a verbal command before shooting Rice. The Cleveland police department initially said that Loehmann did issue the command but witnesses disputed the claim.