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Cleveland committee aims to rebuild trust with police through body cameras

Police officers in one district of Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday began wearing body cameras, and others are expected to join in the next few months.
Samaria Rice, of Cleveland, Ohio, wears a button with her son's photograph during an interview at The Associated Press, on Dec. 15, 2014 in New York.
Samaria Rice, of Cleveland, Ohio, wears a button with her son's photograph during an interview at The Associated Press, on Dec. 15, 2014 in New York.

Police officers in one area of Cleveland, Ohio, on Wednesday began wearing body cameras, and the other four districts are expected to join in by June. The Cleveland Police Department has faced mounting criticism over past high-profile incidents, including the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside of a recreation center in November.

Community leaders in Cleveland met Wednesday to discuss the use of body cameras within their own police department. The U.S. Department of Justice previously concluded an investigation that there was “reasonable cause” to believe the Cleveland Police Department routinely has used excessive force. The city purchased 1,500 cameras last month, and the first 240 were delivered to the Fourth District this week. Residents hope to rebuild trust and confidence with the police department by increasing transparency and officer accountability.

Following the police fatal shooting of Missouri teenager Michael Brown in August, some Americans called on the government and local police departments to require that officers wear body cameras to address concerns of police brutality around the country. In December, President Barack Obama made public the government's plan to spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement.

Rice was shot outside of the Cudell Recreation Center on Nov. 22 by rookie Officer Timothy Loehmann who was responding with his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, to an emergency call reporting a person pointing a weapon. Officials later discovered the child had a non-lethal pellet gun. The 911 caller told dispatchers the firearm he saw was “probably fake,” but the characterization reportedly wasn’t passed on to the two responding officers. The child died in the hospital the next day.

Last Friday, the Rice family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court, primarily against the Cleveland police, NBC News reported. Relatives allege the child fell to the snow-covered ground "still alive, shot in the stomach, and bleeding to death." They filed 27 different accusations in the lawsuit, ranging from excessive force by the two officers and negligence, to intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.

RELATED: New video shows officers tackling Tamir Rice's teenage sister

The Rice family may file a complaint with the Ohio city's Civilian Police Review Board about the child's death and the treatment of his teenage sister who was reportedly tackled to the ground by police, according to NBC's Ron Allen. In January, Mayor Frank Jackson changed who holds jurisdiction over the Rice case from the Cleveland Police Department to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department.

Rice's death was captured on surveillance video, previously released in November upon the family’s insistence. The footage shows Loehmann firing at the boy within two seconds of arriving on scene. An autopsy report revealed the child died from a single gunshot wound to the torso, which struck a major blood vessel in the boy’s abdomen, and injured his intestines and pelvis. Details later emerged that Loehmann had been deemed unfit for duty in 2012 by a small suburban police department where he previously worked.

In January, Cleveland city officials released additional video footage that shows officers tackling Rice's 14-year-old sister to the ground. The almost 30-minute surveillance video appears to depict the scene at the time of Rice’s death and the immediate events that followed. It reveals two officers tackling the boy’s sister as she runs from the left side of the screen to see her brother. They then place her in the nearby police vehicle.

The boy’s mother, Samaria Rice, publicly explained her version of the events that unfolded after police shot her son. When she arrived at the scene, she previously said, police had tackled and handcuffed her teenage daughter before placing her inside the cruiser, where she was screaming to see her mother.

The family's lawyers don't expect the process of convening a grand jury to begin until as late as April.

Recent killings by officers renewed a national conversation about community policing and law enforcement policies. Grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City recently decided not to indict two white officers in the deaths of unarmed black men Brown and Eric Garner.