The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it would not lay federal criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers in the 2014 murder of Tamir Rice, 12, saying the video of the shooting was too poor for that prosecutors can conclusively establish what had happened. .
By closing the case, the department ended a long-standing investigation into a high-profile shooting that helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and has become part of the national dialogue on the use of force by the police against minorities, including children.
The decision, revealed in a lengthy statement, does not condone the agents’ actions, but rather indicates that cumulative evidence was not sufficient to support a federal civil rights criminal prosecution.
Tamir was playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland on November 22, 2014, when he was shot by Officer Timothy Loehmann, who is white, seconds after Loehmann and his partner, the ‘Officer Frank Garmback.
Officers were called to the recreation center after a man drinking beer and waiting for a bus called 911 to report that a “guy” was pointing a gun at people. The appellant told a 911 dispatcher that it was likely a minor and that the gun could be “fake”, although this information was never given to officers.
To lay federal civil rights charges in cases like these, the Justice Department must prove that an officer’s actions willfully violated the law rather than being the result of an error, d ‘negligence or poor judgment.
Federal prosecutors have always faced a difficult burden in Democratic and Republican administrations, with the Justice Department denying criminal charges against police officers in other high-profile cases in recent years, including in the death of ‘Eric Garner in New York. and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
In a statement, Subodh Chandra, an attorney for the boy’s family, said “the Justice Department process was flawed” and the family asked prosecutors to provide additional information on the recommendations made during the trial. investigation.
“It is incomprehensible that the ministry cannot recognize that an officer who claims to have shouted orders when the patrol car window was closed and it was a winter day was lying,” Chandra said. “The Rice family has once again been deceived by a fair process.”
In that case, the Justice Department said poor quality surveillance footage recorded in the area where the shooting took place prevented prosecutors from being able to conclusively determine whether or not Rice grabbed her toy gun just. before being shot. The two officers who were investigated told authorities shortly after the shooting that Rice was looking for her toy gun before being shot and was given several orders to show her hands.
But the video reviewed by federal prosecutors makes the sequence of events less clear. The grainy time-lapse video, which has no audio, “shows no detail or perspective” and the camera view is obstructed by a police patrol car, prosecutors said. Further, they said, although the positioning of the boy’s arms suggests they were close to his waist, “his hands are not visible in the video and it cannot be determined from the video what. he was doing. “
The Justice Department said seven use-of-force experts – three retained by family, four by local authorities – reviewed the recording, but the poor quality of the video they relied on and their “contradictory opinions contributed little to the case.” Experts used by the family said the shooting was unreasonable while the other four said it was reasonable.
The New York Times reported in October that the department had effectively shut down the investigation, but Tuesday’s announcement made it official.
Inconsistent witness statements also complicated the prosecution, and no one said they saw exactly what Rice was doing just before the shooting, according to the Justice Department.
In a statement at the scene to three other law enforcement officers, Loehmann “repeatedly and consistently” said Tamir was looking for a gun before shooting him, prosecutors said.
Loehmann and Garmback also said in statements after the shooting that Loehmann gave Tamir “several orders to show his hands before firing” and that the two officers saw him reach out for the weapon. Prosecutors said Loehmann and Garmback were the only two witnesses near the shooting.
A state grand jury had refused to indict Loehmann, although he was later fired after it was discovered that he had previously been found “unfit for work”.
The Justice Department also investigated whether police obstructed justice in statements they made to other investigators shortly after the shooting. Prosecutors concluded that while the statements included different language, they were generally consistent. And since there was not enough evidence to prove the statements were false, there was also not enough evidence to prove that the officers had sought to mislead investigators or obstruct an investigation. on their actions.