Nearly a year after a police officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun, a new report from an outside police expert has concluded that the officer acted reasonably given the information he had.
While Tamir Rice’s death was tragic, Officer Tim Loehmann’s actions were “objectively reasonable” because he and officer Frank Garmback were told Rice was armed with a gun and pointing it at people, wrote W. Ken Katsaris, a longtime Florida police instructor and officer.
This was the third outside review requested and released by Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. Last month, McGinty’s office released evaluations from a Colorado prosecutor and a retired FBI special agent, both of whom similarly concluded that Loehmann’s actions were reasonable.
Rice’s family has strongly criticized McGinty’s decisions to release these reports, with the family’s attorney decrying Katsaris’s review as “yet another utterly biased and shamelessly misguided ‘expert report.’ ” In addition, Tami Rice’s family has called for McGinty to recuse himself from the case and to appoint a special prosecutor.
McGinty has defended his decision to release the reports, saying in a statement Thursday that he was trying to be transparent.
“Releasing police and expert reports allows the public to have knowledge of actual facts, rather than forming opinions based on rumor and innuendo,” McGinty said. He also said his office was not reaching any conclusions from these reports or other evidence and only gathering details for the grand jury to consider.
Tamir was shot and killed on Nov. 22, 2014, while in a park on the west side of Cleveland. Police were called to the park because someone called 911 about “a guy with a pistol.” The same caller continued: “It’s probably fake, but he’s pointing it at everybody.” The person later said that Tamir kept taking the gun in and out of his pants and pointing it at people, before saying, “I don’t know if it’s real or not.”
Video of the shooting shows that Loehmann shot Tamir within seconds of getting out of his car.
The death was one of several episodes across the country that have sparked a heated debate over how police use lethal force, particularly when it comes to black men and boys. But while numerous other high-profile incidents have resulted in decisions over whether or not the officers involved would face criminal charges, Tamir’s case remains open and no decision on charges has been announced.
In the new review, Katsaris says that Loehmann had “one split second” to decide what to do, based on the information he had gotten from a dispatcher before arriving in the area. Katsaris said quick action was necessary because of the report that Tamir had been taking a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people.
“It is simply obvious that the officers had a reasonable belief that Rice was armed,” Katsaris wrote. He went on to say that the decision to use deadly force “was clearly objectively reasonable, given the totality of the circumstances.”
However, Katsaris faults the dispatcher who relayed the 911 call to Loehmann and Garmback, because the officers were not told that the initial caller had described Tamir as “probably a juvenile” and the gun as “probably fake.”
Still, while Katsaris says the dispatcher erred in not providing those details, he also says he doesn’t think it would have necessarily changed the outcome. Katsaris writes that the age description “does not in any way diminish the threat potential,” while the comments about the possible weapon “are far too ambiguous” given the situation.
“This unquestionably was a tragic loss of life, but to compound the tragedy by labeling the officers conduct as anything but objectively reasonable would also be a tragedy, albeit not carrying with it the consequences of the loss of life, only the possibility of loss of career,” Katsaris concluded.
Katsaris had also testified in the trial of Cleveland officer Michael Brelo, who was indicted for his actions in the 2012 shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were killed after leading dozens of police cars on a chase. During the trial, Katsaris said Brelo’s actions were “completely foolish.” Brelo was acquitted in May.