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Team Accepted Officer Who Killed Tamir Rice, Black Players Feel Betrayed

photo of Cleveland Warriors practice
Matt Richmond
WCPN ideastream
Former players with the Cleveland Warriors accuse the team's leadership of betrayal for hiding Timothy Loehmann's identity and an unfair process leading to their expulsion from the team. They promised to disrupt more practices like this one on January 31, 2021, in North Royalton.

The Cleveland Warriors, an amateur football team in Northeast Ohio made up of police officers, prison guards and first responders, had some unwanted visitors at their practice Saturday.

While a handful of young and middle-aged white men wearing helmets and shorts ran through passing plays at an indoor sports complex in North Royalton, five Black men — including former players on the team and local activists — watched and yelled at the players and coaches.

“I just want you to know practice is over with,” said the protest’s organizer and former team member Randy Knight. “Because they’re harboring a murderer.”

Knight and the others came out early on a cold Saturday morning in January to protest the presence of one player – Timothy Loehmann – the former Cleveland Division of Police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.

“I’m in pictures with this guy,” Knight said, during an interview the day before. “I’m playing football with this guy. You know how my family would think of me?”

Knight left the team earlier this month. He said he had no idea he’d been playing with Loehmann. He found out from a clerk at a sporting goods store.

And Knight believes the people running the team intentionally hid Loehmann’s identity.

“That’s not a recognizable face, you know?” Knight said. “Everyone else is called by his last name. Everyone else – Knight, Sullivan – but when it comes to Timothy they called him Tim or Timmy.”

Photo of Timothy Loehmann (second from left) practicing with the Warriors in 2018, downloaded from the team's private Facebook page by Randy Knight.

Team leadership at the practice declined to comment for this story. Follow up calls the day after practice were not returned.

All investigations into Loehmann have ended in similar outcomes. Local prosecutors never charged Loehmann for a crime in the killing of Tamir Rice. The U.S. Department of Justice recently closed its investigation into the shooting without bringing a civil rights case.

Knight said six people were kicked off the team after objecting to Loehmann’s presence, all Black and under the age of 33.

At Saturday’s practice, team members called the police and Knight and the activists moved their protest outside, which ended peacefully once all the players left.

Loehmann wasn’t out on the field practicing that day. Knight claimed his truck was in the parking lot. He was not seen exiting the facility.

A Warriors roster from 2018 posted online lists Loehmann as an offensive lineman and member of the Cleveland police department.

What bothered Knight and other former players most was that members of the team knew who “Timmy” was but kept his identity hidden.

“It wasn’t no hard feelings toward him, it wasn’t like no anger or nothing,” former team member Bijon Walker said. Walker has played on the team since 2013 and his long tenure added to the surprise about not being told sooner.

“We took a lot of team photos with him,” Walker said. “What if one of those pictures were to surface or to be shown somewhere, and then a lot of angry people in the community we live in, and they were to see?”

The Black players approached team president Bill Sofranko about Loehmann’s presence.

League rules require that players are active duty first responders. Loehmann doesn’t meet that requirement. The Cleveland Division of Police fired Loehmann for lying on his job application.

According to Knight, Sofranko’s response was he thought the players knew who Timmy was. Then he claimed Loehmann was leaving the team, but he remained.

Sofranko declined to comment for this story during Saturday’s practice and didn’t return calls the day after. Another player who’s left the team, Patrick Sullivan, raised concerns about Timmy’s identity back in 2019.

“First thing he said, he been through a lot since that happened. This is all he got, football is all he got. He been through a lot and it eats him up at night. I said, ‘Bill, what about the family of Tamir Rice? It eats them up every day,” Sullivan said.

Loehmann is still contesting his firing from Cleveland Division of Police. His case is awaiting a hearing in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.    
Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.