The city of Cleveland says it may hand over the investigation of the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice to the county sheriff’s office.
“The city still has the case. It’s still ours. But there have been discussions about handing it over,” said Dan Ball, a spokesman for the city.
Asked whether those discussions–which are being led by the city’s Safety Director Michael McGrath–would continue, Ball said: “I don’t know.”
Ball added that having police shooting investigations handled independently has “been the city’s goal for a while.”
John O’Brien, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The discussions were first reported by the Northeast Ohio Media Group.
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.