Grand Jury Rules No Indictment Against Officers in Tamir Rice Killing

More than a year after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer, a grand jury declined to pursue charges against Officer Timothy Loehmann or his training officer, Frank Garmback. The decision was announced on Monday by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, and now many are speaking out against the decision, describing it as an injustice that sets a dangerous precedent for future police shooting cases. 

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On November 22, 2014, Loehmann and Garmback responded to reports of a Black man pointing a gun at people near a recreational center. As they pulled up to the scene, Loehmann said Tamir pulled a gun from his waistband and the officer fired two shots, striking Tamir in the torso. The 12-year-old died in the hospital the following day.

Tamir was carrying a toy Airsoft gun that contained plastic pellets, but video evidence shows that he did not reach for his waistband as the officers described. In fact, Tamir had used both hands to pull his shirt up and expose the toy gun before he fell to the ground.

The shooting prompted national protests, an investigation by the county sheriff's office, and two outside reviews. Despite surveillance footage of the shooting, which contradicted several parts of the Cleveland police account, a grand jury determined that Loehmann exercised reasonable force and should not be held criminally responsible for Tamir's death.

"The outcome will not cheer anyone, nor should it," McGinty said on Monday. "Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police."

In a statement, Tamir's family said that it was "saddened and disappointed... but not surprised" by the grand jury's decision. "It has been clear for months now that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty was abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment," the statement read.

The statement continued:

"Even though video shows the police shooting Tamir in less than one second, Prosecutor McGinty hired so-called expert witnesses to try to exonerate the officers and tell the grand jury their conduct was reasonable and justified. It is unheard of, and highly improper, for a prosecutor to hire 'experts' to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation."

The decision has been widely condemned in the hours since the announcement, with many arguing that the lack of an indictment represents yet another failing of the criminal justice system to prosecute police in the fatal shooting of Black people in the U.S. At least 975 people have been killed by police in 2015, according to the Washington Post's tracking database. In 32 of those cases, the victims were unarmed Black people.

One major point of contention concerns the emphasis on Tamir's age — or rather, how the officers perceived Tamir's age and how that factor influenced Loehmann's decision to open fire. He said that Tamir appeared to be around the age of 20. And since the police operator didn't relay specific information from the 911 call — the witness who called the department noted that the suspect looked like a juvenile and that the gun was probably a toy — the officer claimed to fear for his life when Tamir allegedly reached for his waistband.

"The boy’s death came just days before massive protests and unrest would break out in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City after officers in those cities were cleared in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner," the Washington Post reported. Now the city says it is preparing for renewed protests in response to the grand jury's decision.