The city of Cleveland handed over the investigation of the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, the city said in a statement late Friday.
“This decision to turn the investigation over was made to ensure that transparency and an extra layer of separation and impartiality were established,” Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in the statement. “I believe that the best way to ensure accountability in a use of force investigation is to have it completed by an outside agency.”
Responding to the transfer, attorneys Benjamin L. Crump, Walter T. Madison and Daryl D. Parks issued a statement on behalf of Rice’s family:
“We are cautiously optimistic about the announcement made earlier today regarding the City of Cleveland’s promise of transparency and impartiality in the transfer of the investigation into the shooting death of Tamir Rice.
“First and foremost, the Rice family hopes that this investigation yields information about why Cleveland Police failed to conduct a background check with the Independence Police Department before hiring Officer Timothy Loehmann.
We are further hopeful that this independent investigation will shed some light on why the police car nearly drove on top of Tamir Rice, and why he was shot less than two seconds after officers converged.”
Rice was shot and killed in November by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann. As Loehmann got out of his police car, Rice lifted his shirt, prompting Loehmann to shoot him in the chest within seconds. Police have said they thought they saw a handgun. In fact, Rice was holding a toy “airsoft” gun.
Rice was black, while Loehmann is white, and the shooting added to the racialized tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It came just two days before news that the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown would not be charged.
Lawyers for Rice’s family have called for an outside agency to investigate the shooting, arguing that the police department can’t be impartial in looking into a potential crime by one of its own officers. A grand jury is also set to hear evidence in the case once the internal investigation is complete.
But handing things over to the county might not fully solve the problem. In the Ferguson case, lawyers for Brown’s family claimed that even the St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, might not be impartial, because of close ties between his office and the police. Missouri lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require the state to appoint a special prosecutor in police shooting cases.
Last month, a Justice Department report found “systemic deficiencies” in the Cleveland police department’s approach to using deadly force and investigating deadly force cases. The DOJ probe was launched well before the Rice shooting.
Additional reporting by Zachary Roth