As outrage simmered over a report published Wednesday suggesting a grand jury improperly concluded its deliberations into a police officer’s killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a prosecutor’s spokesman declined to comment directly on the allegations.
But the spokesman, Joseph Frolik, told NBC News that his office handles all police use-of-force cases the same.
“The first question the grand jury has to decide after concluding their investigation is whether the officer’s use of deadly force was justified under the law,” Frolik said. “If they decide it was justified, they don’t vote on criminal charges. If they decide it’s not justified, they then vote on possible criminal charges.”
The article, published in Cleveland-based The Scene magazine, reported that the grand jury impaneled by McGinty did not vote when it decided not to bring criminal charges against Timothy Loehmann, the officer who killed Rice, and that there was no record of the decision.
In a statement, a lawyer for Rice’s family said that they were promised that there would be a vote.
“The report that no vote was ever taken by the grand jury is, if true, stunning. It is yet another example of the disturbing and troubling way the grand jury process has been handled by the local prosecutor,” read the statement from attorney Jonathan S. Abady.
“We were assured throughout this process that a recommendation regarding criminal charges would be made and that a vote would be taken by the grand jury,” he added.
In a statement provided to NBC News, the prosecutor’s office said that the question of justification — like the question of criminal charges — would be voted on by the grand jury first.
“If the Grand Jury decides that the fatal use of force was justified under the circumstances, then the Grand Jury investigation is concluded,” the statement said.
That is to say, the grand jury wouldn’t bother voting on criminal charges if they already voted that the officer’s actions were justified.
On December 28, the day that the grand jury concluded its deliberations and declined to indict Loehmann, a document was filed with Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas stating that the “grand jurors have concluded the investigation into the November 22, 2014 death of Tamir Rice and have declined to issue criminal charges.”
Rice was shot to death by Cleveland Police Officer Loehmann on Nov. 22, 2014. His death sparked protests that called for a federal investigation and for the resignation of the prosecutor, Timothy McGinty.
Various reports showed that Loehmann shot Tamir within two seconds of encountering him, and that the boy was not reaching for a toy gun, as was initially claimed.