Before rookie cop Timothy Loehmann, 26, became yet another symbol of the tensions between law enforcement and the black community, he was an eager graduate of the City of Cleveland’s police academy in March.
In some ways, it was the big leagues, his father told the Northeast Ohio Media Group in an interview.
He was tired of the sleepy policing of the suburban district in Independence, Ohio, where he had worked since 2012. He reveled in his new assignment in one of Cleveland’s most violent communities, the Fourth District.
“He loved the action,” his father, Fred Loehmann, told the local news organization.
On Nov. 22, Loehmann’s life took a sharp turn. Responding with his partner to a 911 call about a man pointing a gun at people in a park, he arrived at the scene and shot 12-year old Tamir Rice. Tamir had been playing with an Airsoft replica of a semi-automatic weapon. He died the following day.
The replica pistol was missing the orange safety cap that signaled that it was fake, authorities said.
The protests sparked by the incident were fueled by surveillance footage released days later showing Loehmann arriving on the scene, exiting a still-moving patrol car, and shooting Tamir within seconds.
In the interview, Fred Loehmann said that his son had no way of knowing the gun was fake or that Tamir was 12 years old. Recordings show that one of the officers described Tamir to dispatchers as possibly 20 years old, the news group said.
“‘I was right there and he went for the gun,'” the father recalled Tim Loehmann saying, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “‘I had no choice.'”
Policing was a part of Tim Loehmann’s upbringing. His father, Fred, was an officer with the New York Police Department for two decades. And in his policing days, Fred Loehmann told the Northeast Ohio Media Group, he was once faced with a similar choice:
While on patrol in Harlem in 1972, he came upon a man suspected in an armed robbery. The man turned around, extended his arm and silver flashed from his palm. Fred Loehmann cocked his service weapon, but held his fire.
“I just felt like he wasn’t going to shoot me,” Loehmann said. “If it would have been a real gun, I’d be dead.”
The gun turned out to be a Derringer cigarette lighter, fashioned to look like a handgun.