The attorney representing the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on Monday demanded a trial by jury for the officer responsible for killing the child last month in Cleveland, Ohio.
There is enough visual evidence to indict the officer without calling for a grand jury to convene, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump told reporters on Monday. “When there’s probable cause, you don’t have to have a grand jury. You can do what the Constitution says and charge the person,” he said. “This notion of due process of the law applies to Tamir Rice, too, not just to the police officer.”
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Samaria Rice, the boy’s mother, addressed the media at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, marking the family’s first public appearance since the fatal shooting of their son on Nov. 22. She was joined by the boy’s father and grandmother, as well as elected officials, and faith and community leaders. Their attorneys, Crump and Walter Madison, spoke during the majority of the event.
Rev. Jawanza Karriem Colvin called for the resignation of Michael McGrath, director of the Department of Public Safety, and Martin Flask, special executive assistant to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. He also asked for the mayor to begin a national search for a new public safety director. His requests echoed those expressed by local officials in recent days.
“To be silent in this instant … that silence is unacceptable,” Colvin said during Monday’s press conference at his church in Cleveland.
Rice, who briefly addressed the media, said, “I am actually looking for a conviction,” of the officer responsible for killing her son.
Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed Rice, who was holding a toy “airsoft” gun outside of the Cudell Recreation Center, just 100 yards from the child’s home. The shooting was captured on surveillance video and previously released to the public at the request of the Rice family. It shows two police officers shooting the boy within seconds of arriving at the recreation center. Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, were responding to a 911 call in which a person sitting at a picnic table under a nearby gazebo said he saw “a guy in here with a pistol” who kept pulling the gun in and out of his waistband. The emergency caller also mentioned that the individual was “probably a juvenile,” and that the firearm was “probably fake.”
Rice had been walking back and forth along the sidewalk and waving a toy gun, which apparently had the orange safety indicator removed. The cops claimed Rice’s gun appeared to be real. Rice’s mother on Monday said the toy firearm belonged to one of her son’s friends.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice found “reasonable cause” to believe the Cleveland Police Department routinely has used excessive force, following the conclusion of a civil rights investigation launched last year to examine hundreds of cases.
“If police officers are ill-equipped to deal with children playing on the playground with toy guns, then we might have to consider outlawing all toy guns because this scenario cannot happen again in America,” said Crump, who recently represented the families of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in those teenagers’ shooting deaths.
During her address on Monday morning, Samaria Rice explained the chronicle of events that happened after police shot her son. When two boys visited her home to inform her of the incident, Rice walked nearby to the recreation center. There, law enforcement officials “told me to calm down or they would put me in the back of a police car,” she said on Monday. Police, she added, had tackled and handcuffed her 14-year-old daughter, and had placed her inside the cruiser, where she was screaming to see her mother. Rice’s 16-year-old son was across the walkway from the vehicle.
Rice said officers gave her an ultimatum about riding in the police car with her daughter or in the ambulance with Tamir. She chose to go to the hospital with her son, but was only allowed to sit in the front of the vehicle, she added.
The officer who shot Tamir was inside the same car as Rice’s daughter, Crump added.
A grand jury will hear the case after the police department concludes an internal investigation, which is expected by mid-February 2015. Jurors will then decide whether or not to charge the policemen with a crime.
The officers were placed on paid administrative leave following the incident. Loehmann had resigned from a nearby police department in 2012 after being deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty, particularly with regard to the handling of firearms.
The Rice family’s appearance on Monday came amid a heated national conversation about police practices, community trust in law enforcement, and public safety. Thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in multiple cities from the East to West coasts since last Wednesday, when a New York grand jury chose not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner. Rice’s parents previously urged the community to remain calm and to demonstrate peacefully. Their plea is similar to that of Brown’s relatives, who recently learned that the police officer who fatally shot and killed their teenage son wasn’t indicted in connection with the Aug. 9 incident in Ferguson, Missouri. The Browns called on their supporters to help them campaign to ensure that all police officers working around the country wear body cameras.
Garner’s mother on Saturday urged the public to continue protesting. Last week, a grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City Police Department officer who placed 43-year-old Garner in an apparent chokehold before his death. Video was captured of that incident.
Seventy percent of African-Americans said they think the decisions not to indict police officers in the killings of unarmed black men have decreased their confidence in the country’s legal system, according to a recent NBC News/Marist poll. Just 9% said the outcomes have increased their confidence. For white people, the split is smaller: 35% said their confidence has lessened, and 21% said it has risen.
Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson on Monday urged local residents to challenge their elected leaders.
“If we cannot protect the streets, then we all are at risk. We have failed in our responsibilities,” Johnson said.
Rice told reporters she wants her son to be remembered for being a bright child with a promising future who enjoyed playing sports, drawing, and helping in the community.
“Everybody just loved him,” she said.