Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, Rice Family, Protesters & Loehmann Lawyer Comment on Grand Jury Decision
A Cuyahoga County grand jury yesterday declined to bring criminal charges against two Cleveland police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. ideastream’s Annie Wu has details.
Outside Cudell Recreation Center on a cold November afternoon more than a year ago, a 911 call warned of someone pulling a gun out of his pants and scaring people. Responding to a high priority call about an active shooter, Officer Frank Garmback skidded his police cruiser to a stop within a few feet of 12 year old Tamir Rice. Within seconds, Officer Timothy Loehmann exited the car and shot him.
At a press conference Monday afternoon, prosecutor Timothy McGinty said it was his recommendation not to indict.
"And the law gives the benefit of the doubt to the officers who must make split second decisions when they reasonably believe their lives or those of innocent bystanders are in danger. Based on these rules, it became clear through this investigation that the actions of Officers Loehmann and Garmback were not criminal."
McGinty called the incident a “perfect storm of human error.” He said the 911 call taker was responsible for "substantial" errors including not relaying information from the caller to the officers that the suspect was probably a juvenile and the gun may not have been real.
"Had the officers been aware of these qualifiers the training officer who was driving might have approached the scene w/less urgency. Lives may not have been put at stake…"
He pointed to enhanced surveillance video saying it showed -- quote -- “indisputable” evidence that Rice was pulling a weapon from his waist.
Behind him, McGinty displayed two guns side by side – a toy pellet gun like the one Rice had been playing with and a real gun to demonstrate how similar the two looked.
McGinty said he informed Rice’s mother earlier about the grand jury’s decision.
"It was a tough conversation. She was broken up and it was very hard."
In a written statement, the Rice family said it is “saddened and disappointed by this outcome – but not surprised.” The family statement criticized McGinty’s handling of the case. Earlier, they called for the prosecutor to step down, hired their own experts to review the evidence, and asked the US Justice Department to conduct its own investigation. The US Attorney’s office is conducting an independent review.
Cleveland State University law Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich says prosecutors have a lot of discretion in how they present to a grand jury.
"It’s not surprising that the Rice family is not satisfied with how it looks like the prosecutor presented this case to the grand jury. It’s hard to see any misconduct being done here. But on the other hand, I can see why they’re not happy with how things proceeded. They can certainly proceed with a civil case, that’s completely independent of any failure of a criminal indictment."
The family’s civil suit against the city and the police officers is still pending.
Shortly after the grand jury announcement Monday, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the next step is an administrative review of whether the officers violated any police department policies.
A committee made up of police and private citizens will look at the sheriff, prosecutor, and grand jury’s investigations and present their findings to Police Chief Calvin Williams. Mayor Jackson said this death of a minor at the hands of police has caused the city to do some soul searching and brought police reform to the department.
"We have made some changes not only in terms of our policies, tactics, process, procedure, but we’ve reached an agreement with the Department of Justice in terms of the Consent Decree. All of this is designed to better ensure that an incident like this will never happen again."
On Cleveland’s west side, Jean Kosmac joined a group of protestors who said they didn’t want to see another such incident again either.
"Well, we need to let people know we’re paying attention, and that this can’t continue."
Next to the gazebo in the Cudell neighborhood where Tamir Rice was shot, a few dozen marchers including Kevin Latimer chanted in the cold drizzle on their way to the First District Police Station.
"I just hope this makes people get off their butts, come out here, and do something about it."
(chanting sound: “No justice, no peace”)
But Henry Hilow who represents Officer Timothy Loehmann said he believes justice was served.
"I think people spmetimes get confused about what is justice and what is their personal agenda. What I think people have to do is take a step back. Justice isn’t what we want all the time and it's not what we always perceive, but we have to respect the process."
Officers Loehmann and Garmback have been on restricted duty and will remain so until the administrative review process is complete.
Editor's note, correction above: We incorrectly reported that the protesters were marching from Cudell Recreation Center to the Justice Center downtown. They were marching to the First District Police Station.