The Cleveland police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice nearly one year ago as he played with a toy gun in a public park acted reasonably because he thought the threat was real, according to a legal review by two independent police experts.
The experts worked separate from each other, and were hired by Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, who will ultimately present their conclusions and other evidence to a grand jury to determine whether officer Tim Loehmann should face criminal charges.
“There can be no doubt that Rice’s death was tragic and, indeed, when one considers his age, heartbreaking,” S. Lamar Sims, a prosecutor from Colorado, said in his report. “However . . . I conclude that Officer Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat.”
Both Sims and the other expert, retired FBI special agent Kimberly A. Crawford, evaluated Loehmann’s actions in the Nov. 22, 2014, shooting under the U.S. Constitution. Crawford added that such a legal review does not include Rice’s age as a determining factor.
“Even if Officer Loehmann was aware of Rice’s age, it would not have made his use of force unreasonable,” Crawford said in her report. “A twelve-year-old with a gun, unquestionably old enough to pull a trigger, poses a threat equal to that of a full-grown adult in a similar situation.”
The fatal shooting followed that of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo., and fueled community protests nationwide over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers.
Rice’s age and the aggressive and swift approach that Loehmann’s partner, Frank Garmback, took as he pulled the patrol car within seven feet of Rice became issues in the case.
However, Crawford said that did not factor into whether, under the Constitution, Loehmann behaved reasonably once he found himself face to face with Rice.
“It could be argued that the officers enhanced that risk by entering the park and stopping their vehicle so close to a potentially armed subject,” Crawford wrote. “However, this type of ‘armchair quarterbacking’ has no place in determining the reasonableness of an officers [sic] use of force.”
Jonathan S. Abady, an attorney for the Rice family, was critical of the prosecutor’s handling of the investigation.
“These so-called experts have a clear pro-law enforcement bias, have ignored the facts, the overwhelming evidence of wrong-doing and resorted to rank speculation,” Abady said in a statement. “The practice of introducing expert testimony of this sort to a grand jury is highly suspicious and perhaps unprecedented. Experts are generally not permitted to opine on the ultimate issue (here, whether force was unreasonable) and are almost never witnesses on this topic before a grand jury.”
McGinty did not say when he will present the case to a grand jury. In a statement, he said he will continue to publicly disclose evidence as he receives it.
“This approach by our office has ended the protocol of total secrecy that once surrounded the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers,” McGinty said. “When a citizen is purposefully killed by police, the results of the investigation should be as public and transparent as possible.”