Lawyers for the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year old African-American boy shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer, praised a move to transfer the investigation away from the city police department. But they didn’t shy away from linking the case to other recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed blacks, and demanding a fairer and more transparent process.
“We are cautiously optimistic that it will be a thorough, fair investigation,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the family, at a press conference held at the headquarters of the NAACP.
"Will the decision be the same as Brown and Garner? Will Tamir's death be swept under the rug?"'
Crump said that on the heels of decisions by grand juries not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., Americans across the country are asking whether this case will be different.
“Will the decision be the same as Brown and Garner?" he asked. “Will Tamir's death be swept under the rug?”
Rice's death, which came just days before news that the Ferguson police officer who killed Brown would not be indicted, has added fuel to the nationwide movement to protest police violence and unequal treatment of minority communities.
On Friday, the city of Cleveland announced that it had handed over the investigation to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office, which will forward its findings to the county prosecutor’s office for possible criminal charges. Cuyahoga County has said the effort will be led by Clifford Pinkney, the second in command at the sheriff’s department and a respected Africa-American lawman.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the sheriff or the prosecutor, what me and his dad are worried about is that they’re going to be held accountable for our son’s murder,” said Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother.
On Nov. 22, Officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of the passenger side of a patrol car and fired two shots at Rice, less than two seconds after pulling up to investigate a complaint about someone waving a gun. The gun Rice was holding turned out to be an Airsoft-type BB gun. The incident was captured on video.
Loehmann and the car’s driver, Officer Frank Garmback, are on restricted duty.
Among the other questions that Crump and other lawyers for the family said must be answered:
Why did it take over six weeks since the incident for the city to step aside from the investigation, even though the city said in 2012 it would transfer all deadly force cases involving police officers? And what prompted the decision?
Why was Loehmann on the police force in the first place, given what Crump called his "checkered history” in law enforcement? In 2012, Loehmann was described by the Independence Police Department as “distracted” and “weepy” during firearms qualification training, and his handgun performance was assessed as “dismal.”
Why did Loehmann and his partner approach Rice in their patrol car in what Crump called a “reckless manner,” and why did Loehmann fire at the pre-teen so quickly?
"He was shot in two seconds. You scratch your head and say, what kind of training was this?"'
“He was shot in two seconds," said Crump. “You scratch your head and say, what kind of training was this?”
Crump said there’s no need to convene a grand jury, since there’s probable cause to charge Loehmann without what he described as a “secret proceeding.” Crump also represented the Brown family, and made the same argument in that case, to no avail.
And Crump suggested that even the county’s investigation might not be entirely impartial, saying local prosecutors have a “symbiotic relationship” with the police. That was a concern in the Brown case, too, where St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch was distrusted by some for close personal and professional ties to law enforcement.
But the lawyers for the Rice family stopped short of saying only murder charges for Loehmann would be acceptable.
“What we are looking for is a transparent and impartial evaluation,” said Walter Madison, another lawyer for the family.