In a move that has already sparked controversy, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that they closed their investigation into the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police. Officials said they found insufficient evidence to support a federal case against Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.
This development, however, follows two months after The New York Times reported that DOJ supervisors effectively prevented prosecutors from using a grand jury to collect evidence and stalled so the statute of limitations on a possible obstruction case would run. In other words, officials now say they could not find enough evidence, even though they reportedly did not even kick this probe into high-gear in the first place.
Reporters Charlie Savage and Katie Benner, who broke the Times article using background sources, noted this context:
DOJ memo on Tamir Rice case touts “extensive examination of the facts,” omitting how the career prosecutors on the file wanted to use a grand jury to try for an obstruction case & were denied.(This is actually happening now bc statute of limitations for obstruction just ran out.) pic.twitter.com/i04o8iU8sa
— Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) December 29, 2020
One of the sadder things about this very sad case is that, w/o showing new evidence to the grand jury, the case was basically done. But DOJ waited another 2+ months to officially say so and give Tamir Rice’s family closure. https://t.co/0nHldL7nji
— Katie Benner (@ktbenner) December 29, 2020
Loehmann shot and killed Rice on November 22, 2014 while 12-year-old was out playing with an airsoft gun, the DOJ said. In the Times story, sources said career DOJ prosecutors Jared Fishman and Nick Reddick spent two years seeking a grand jury in order to subpoena documents and testimony. These prosecutors had been looking at a possible obstruction of justice case regarding whether now-former officer Loehmann was truthful in claiming he told Rice to put his hands up before the shooting. Department supervisors did not give them an answer until Aug. 2019: They denied permission to use a grand jury.
On Tuesday, the DOJ asserted that video evidence was not clear enough on what the 12-year-old was doing at the time of the shooting.
“In order to establish a federal civil rights violation, the government would have to prove that Officer Loehmann’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances, and that his actions were willfull,” the DOJ said. “As noted above, caselaw establishes that an officer is permitted to use deadly force where he reasonably believes that the suspect posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others. Here, in light of the officers’ explanations that Officer Loehmann shot because it appeared to him that Tamir was reaching for his gun, the government would necessarily have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) Tamir was not reaching for his gun; and 2) that Officer Loehmann did not perceive that Tamir was reaching for his gun, despite his consistent statements to the contrary. The evidence is insufficient for the government to prove this.”
Attorney Subodh Chandra, a lawyer for Rice’s family, did not buy it, calling the process “tainted.”
“It’s beyond comprehension that the Department couldn’t recognize that an officer who claims he shouted commands when the patrol car’s window was closed and it was a winter day is lying,” Chandra said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. “The Rice family has been cheated of a fair process yet again.”
[Screengrab of moments right before the shooting via New York Times]
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