It’s been six months since 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot down by Cleveland police. And neither his body nor the investigation into his death has been laid to rest.
On Tuesday morning, Cuyahoga County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney stood at a lectern for all of about five minutes and asked the public — and Rice’s family — for more time to investigate the fatal shooting.
“While it would be politically expedient to impose an arbitrary deadline, for the sake of the integrity of this investigation, I’m not willing to do that,” Pinkney said. “Of course that does not mean that this investigation should drag out beyond what is reasonable. What is reasonable is that all parties involved know that my department is conducting a fair, impartial and thorough investigation — one that leaves zero stones unturned before turning it over to County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.”
Investigators have poured over thousands of documents, reviewed surveillance video, conducted numerous search warrants, and interviewed numerous witnesses, he added.
“While a few more witnesses need to be interviewed, and more forensic evidence needs to be collected, the majority of our work is complete,” Pinkney said.
With that, he took no questions. As he walked away from the cameras and a few of Tamir’s relatives who’d gathered for the generally detail-free update, a voice from the crowd boomed and trailed Pinkney on his way out.
“We waited six months. Six months for what?”
“A 12-year-old kid, six months later and we’re still at a standstill,” Latonya Goldsby, Rice’s cousin, told reporters after the news conference. “We still have no answers whatsoever.”
Goldsby said her family is suffering and even more so from what they feel has been a lack of transparency in the investigation into Rice’s death. She said no one had even taken the time to call them and let them know about Tuesday’s news conference, and that they had to find out about it from the previous night’s news.
“I would hope and pray that they are doing the best they can with this investigation and to be a little more transparent with our family,” Goldsby said. When asked what her family wanted, she said in no uncertain terms “a conviction, we want an indictment, we want charges brought against these officers for their recklessness.”
A nearby security camera captured the Nov. 22 shooting and the response by police. A bystander nearby called police after he saw Rice holding what appeared to be a gun. An officer and his partner responded to the call, barreling into a neighborhood park in their police car and shooting the boy on sight. The boy was Tamir and the gun was a toy. Video footage showed the officers then tackling Rice’s 14-year-old sister as she attempted to run to his aid.
“The evidence, everything is right there on tape,” Goldsby said.
Half a year has passed since then, and there are still few details about the direction the investigation is taking.
“This is life and death, and Tamir has lost his life,” she said. “I would have liked to have heard that charges were being filed and that they were on their way to picking these officers up. That’s what we were expecting to hear today.”
In the six months following Tamir’s death, his family has spiraled emotionally and financially. His mother, Samaria Rice, has since moved into a homeless shelter. His family has yet to bury the boy, reportedly holding off on an internment to preserve evidence and the possibility of further medical examinations.
Rice’s family recently filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Cleveland, to which the city responded with a plea to hold off on legal action until the criminal investigation is completed. The two officers involved in the fatal incident, Timothy Loehmann, who shot Rice, and his partner Frank Garmback, have the sought protections of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the city’s attorneys have filed a motion stating that, by holding off on the civil suit until the criminal case is completed, that would allow Loehmann and Garmback to give depositions and testify at trial “without fear that their answers may be used against them in a separate criminal proceeding, where the stakes are significantly higher and their liberty is directly at risk.”
But the stakes are already high for Rice’s family.
“The incident has shattered the life of the Rice family,” according to a motion filed by the family’s attorneys. “In particular, Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother, has since been forced to move to a homeless shelter because she could no longer live next door to the killing field of her son.”
The family last week held a press conference, in which they pleaded for justice, an update and closure in the case. In “less than a second, my son is gone, and I want to know how long I got to wait for justice,” Samaria Rice said.
Rice’s death — along with that of Tony Robinson Jr., who was shot and killed on March 7 by a Madison, Wisconsin, police officer — adds to a long and miserable list of dead young black men and boys shot by police in recent months. Their names have been read with love and anger and, at times, fire by countless thousands who have taken to streets all across the country to protests what they see as an unbridled attack on black Americans by police — who are rarely held accountable for their deeds.
A notable exception is the quick decision by Baltimore’s State Attorney on May 1 to indict six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who suffered a fatal injuries while in police custody. Another example took place in North Charleston, South Carolina, where officer Michael Slager was charged with murder after video emerged showing him shooting Walter Scott, 50, in the back as the man fled on foot.
In December, however, the Justice Department released the findings of a two-year civil rights investigation that found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” by Cleveland police officers. The report revealed that the officers’ behavior was dangerous, reckless and fomented anger and mistrust between the police and the city’s black community.
One recent case that has yet to be resolved involves 19-year-old Tony Robinson, who was shot and killed on March 7 in Madison, Wisconsin, by police officer Matt Kenny. The two got into a confrontation after Robinson was reported jumping in and out of traffic. Kenny shot Robinson multiple times. The police say Robinson, who was unarmed at the time, attacked the officer. On Tuesday, the Dane County District Attorney is expected to release findings of an investigation into that killing and whether or not Kenny will be charged in Robinson’s death.