You can get away with murder.
You can shoot a child in an open park. You can lie about the incident. You can refuse to cooperate with investigators. You can, if a Cuyahoga County prosecutor and grand jury are to be believed, escape indictment even when the entire episode is captured on videotape.
It has been 13 months since Rice was gunned down at a Cudell Recreation Center last winter. He was carrying a toy gun, playing imagery games in the snow Nov. 22, 2014, when someone dialed 911 to report a “guy with a gun.” The dispatcher was advised that the “gun” was likely a toy.
Authorities promised a full and fair investigation. In the end, after months of fact-finding, a grand jury refused to indict Officer Loehmann or his partner Frank Garmback, even though the shooting was initially ruled a homicide.
Loehmann shot Rice once in the torso. But that wasn’t his only misdeed that night. Even after he and Garmback realized their mistake—after it dawned on them that Rice was a child, not a “guy,” armed with a toy, not a “gun”—neither man rendered medical aid, as the boy lay mortally wounded on the concrete.
When Rice’s older sister struggled to get to his side, they handcuffed and stuffed her into the back of their cruiser—rather than address her with the compassion she deserved. And, while Tamir lay dead in the morgue, the officers filed criminal charges against him.
During a press conference Monday, Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said he recommended that the panel decline to indict. McGinty claims that the officer’s actions were “not criminal,” but the result of “a perfect storm of errors.”
The grand jury, which has been meeting since October, agreed with McGinty.
But who can believe the words of a man who once accused a grieving mother of attempting to profit from her child’s death?
“The law gives the benefit of the doubt to the officer who must make split-second decisions,” he told reporters, “when they reasonably believe their lives or those of innocent bystanders are in danger.”
“The Supreme Court,” McGinty proclaimed, “prohibits second-guessing police tactics.”
Throughout the Monday press conference, McGinty repeatedly referred to a “guy with a gun.” That “guy” was a boy who hadn’t been on his first date yet, never kissed a girl, and now will never get married or have children of his own. He didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. Rice will not get a second chance or the opportunity to second-guess the actions of that officer.
A surveillance video shows Loehmann, the patrolman, a rookie with a troubled training record, shooting Rice within two seconds of encountering him. The shots rang out even before Garmback could bring the squad car to a full stop. Loehmann, according to investigators, ordered Tamir to drop his weapon—an AirSoft pellet gun that was tucked in his pants—multiple times. At least, that was the claim. But there was simply no time for him to have uttered those words, no time for Tamir to respond, no time for him to understand what was happening to him.
The gun was out of the holster before Loehmann got out of the car. Rice died the next day during surgery.
McGinty said during his press conference that Rice must have been scared. Maybe Loehmann was too. The question is: Was that fear “reasonable”? Would an appropriately trained and skilled police officer have made the same call? How did a police trainee fail multiple field and firearms tests and then go on to get a job with a neighboring department? When will that investigation begin?
It is nearly impossible to come up with any sympathy for Loehmann. He and Garmback no doubt spent Christmas with their respective families. Samira Rice, Tamir’s mother, spent that day—as she will every other—without her son.
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy,” McGinty explained. “But it was not, as the law that binds us, a crime… Bringing charges would violate the ethical canons” of the justice system.
We should not be surprised at the outcome.
Criminal charges against a police officer, suspected of brutalizing or killing a suspect, are extraordinarily rare—in Ohio and everywhere else in the country. When there is an indictment, the probability of a conviction is even smaller.
Convincing 12 people that a member of law enforcement acted with illegal force in the killing of a suspect is a steep hill to climb. When the officer is white and victim is black, the pathway to justice grows that much steeper.
However, if the roles had been reversed—if Tamir (who officers believed was in his “twenties”) had shot a plainclothes Loehmann in a park because he feared for his life—we would have seen an indictment within days. Even in an open-carry state, Tamir would likely have been charged as an adult.
“We have never seen a prosecutor try so hard to lose a case,” said Jonathan S. Abady, a Rice family attorney, told The New York Times. The officers were reportedly allowed to read personal statements to the grand jury panel “without being cross-examined.”
McGinty is wrong. The law “that binds us” says a boy should be able to play in a public park without the fear of being shot. Failure to aggressively seek charges against the police officers involved violates “the ethical canons” of the justice system.