Justice Department declines to press charges in Tamir Rice case

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The Justice Department announced that career prosecutors concluded there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges against Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback involved in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.

A lengthy statement released on Tuesday closes a chapter in the years-long legal drama that has been cited by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of racial injustice, while defenders of the officers have said their snap decisions were reasonable given the circumstances. The Justice Department did not directly defend Loehmann and Garmback, but argued there is insufficient evidence to prove criminal wrongdoing.

“Although Tamir Rice’s death is tragic, the evidence does not meet these substantial evidentiary requirements. In light of this … career federal prosecutors with both the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded that this matter is not a prosecutable violation of the federal statutes,” the Justice Department concluded, adding that “after extensive examination of the facts in this tragic event, career Justice Department prosecutors have concluded that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Loehmann willfully violated Tamir Rice’s constitutional rights, or that Officers Loehmann or Garmback obstructed justice.”

The only footage is a grainy time-lapse video from the recreation center, and Rice can be seen walking around and pointing the airsoft pellet gun. The police car driven by Garmback headed first toward the swing set, then toward a gazebo where Rice was sitting at a picnic table. The car drove quickly across the park and sliding to a stop on the wet snowy grass near Rice. As the car drove toward Rice, he began to walk toward it, and Loehmann jumped out of the car while it was still moving. Both officers claimed that Rice reached for his waistband, and Loehmann fired two shots in two seconds, hitting Rice once in the stomach. The officers called for emergency assistance, and the 12-year-old died in the hospital.

In late October, reports emerged saying that the Justice Department was likely closing the investigation without charges. In response, Subodh Chandra, a former federal prosecutor representing the Rice family, told the New York Times that Rice’s mother, Samaria, was deeply upset by the decision. “When Samaria Rice heard the news, she cried out repeatedly, ‘I’m not ready for this!’ The federal investigation was her last hope for justice. Accountability was so important to her and her family,” Chandra said.

DOJ investigators said Tuesday that on-scene statements to three responding law enforcement officers began roughly one minute after the shooting, and “Officer Loehmann repeatedly and consistently stated that Tamir was reaching for his gun just before Officer Loehmann shot” and “Officers Loehmann and Garmback … repeatedly and consistently stated that Officer Loehmann gave Tamir multiple commands to show his hands before shooting, and both officers repeatedly and consistently said that they saw Tamir reaching for his gun.” The two men repeated those claims in writing a year later, and the DOJ noted that the two were “the only two witnesses in the near vicinity of the shooting.”

The Justice Department said “career federal prosecutors also reviewed the evidence to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that Officers Loehmann and/or Garmback obstructed justice in their statements to law enforcement officers,” but “concluded that it did not” in part “because there is insufficient evidence to establish that the statements by Officers Loehmann and Garmback are in fact untrue, there is also insufficient evidence to establish that they knew them to be untrue or that they made them with the intent to obstruct the investigation.”

In 2015, then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty released reports arguing that Loehmann’s actions were “objectively reasonable.” In late December of that year, a Cleveland grand jury decided not to indict Loehmann and the Rice family called for an independent Justice Department investigation. The city of Cleveland agreed to settle with Rice’s family for $6 million in 2016 after a lawsuit, and Loehmann was fired the next year. The firing was upheld by the courts in 2019.

“Seven experts reviewed this case and opined on whether Officer Loehmann’s use of force was objectively reasonable or unreasonable: four of whom were hired by the CCPO and agreed that the shooting was objectively reasonable; three of whom were retained by the Rice family and agreed that the shooting was objectively unreasonable,” the Justice Department said on Tuesday. “Because the experts relied heavily on the poor-quality video of the incident and reached different conclusions about what it showed, their conflicting opinions added little to the case, other than to solidify the conclusion that the video evidence is not dispositive and is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt what Tamir was doing in seconds before he was shot.”

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