CLEVELAND — In statements released Tuesday, the two Cleveland police officers involved in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice said that they believed the boy was much older than he was and that Tamir reached for the toy weapon tucked in his waistband before one of the officers opened fire.
The signed statements from Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, given to and released by the local prosecutor, are the first accounts the public has heard directly from the officers involved in the Nov. 22, 2014, shooting of Tamir. His killing came just days before massive protests and unrest would break out in Ferguson, Mo. and New York City after officers there were cleared in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
A grand jury is currently considering whether either officer in Cleveland will face charges in Tamir’s shooting, and investigators had approached both officers more than six months ago to request their statements.
“They were under no duty to make a statement because they had a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” Henry Hilow, a union attorney representing Loehmann said on Tuesday. “They made a conscious decision to talk to investigative authorities and give a statement.”
While attorneys Rice’s family blasted the decision to allow the officers to issue written statements — alleging that they were unsworn statements. However the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday evening that all statements and witnesses presented to the grand jury were under oath.
“No ordinary citizen who is under investigation would be afforded this special treatment,” the Rice family’s attorneys said in a statement. “Submitting self-serving, unsworn written statements—rather than appearing live before the grand jury so that the officers’ versions of events are subject to vigorous cross examination—shows that these officers know their story will not withstand real scrutiny.”
On the day of the shooting, Loehmann and Garmback were responding to a call about a young man playing with a weapon and pointing it at people outside of a local recreation center. Although the caller specified to the dispatcher that the person in question was possibly a child playing with a toy, that information was not relayed to the responding officers.
The officers approached the park from a side street, pulling directly up on the grass where Tamir was playing rather than approaching from the paved parking lot.
“I made the decision to approach the park from West 99th,” Garmback, who was driving the cruiser, said in his statement. “West 99th dead ends at the park, very near the swing set. From there I knew we would have a good view of the swing set, and good access, if necessary, as that is where the male was reported to be.”
Tamir Rice was not at the swing set, but he had moved to a nearby gazebo.
“I believed at first the male was going to run,” Garmback said. “I think I told my partner ‘watch him he’s going to run.’ However he stopped and turned toward the cruiser.”
Both officers said that, as their cruiser continued to drive toward Rice — now on the snow-covered grass — they were moving at about 10 miles per hour, but when they attempted to stop, the car slid.
As the car slid, “I started to open the door and yelled continuously ‘show me your hands’ as loud as I could,” Loehmann said in his statement.
“I kept my eyes on the suspect the entire time. I was fixed on his waistband and hand area,” Loehmann said. “I was trained to keep my eyes on his hands because ‘hands may kill.'”
The officer says that, as he exited the car, he saw Tamir lift his shirt and reach into his waistband, so Loehmann says that he attempted to run to the back of the vehicle.
“The suspect had a gun, had been threatening others with the weapon and had not obeyed our command to show us his hands. He was facing us,” Loehmann wrote. “This was an active shooter situation.”
Loehmann said that he then saw Tamir Rice’s elbow moving upward, and that the weapon was coming up out of his waistband so he fired two shots.
“I saw the weapon in his hand coming out of his waistband,” he wrote. “The threat to my partner and myself was real and active.”
The incident lasted just more than two seconds, and was captured on blurry surveillance tape from a nearby parking lot — prompting local protests as well as calls for both officers to be fired and charged.
“The officers’ statements are inconsistent with one another and the objective video footage contradicts the officers’ claims. Loehmann, for example insists that he observed things and took action that would have been physically impossible for any human being to do in the under 2 seconds it took him to shoot a 12-year-old child,” the Rice family attorneys said. “While Loehmann claims to have issued at least three commands in under two seconds, Garmback admits the windows to the police vehicle were up, demonstrating that his partner’s claims are false.”
Frame-by-frame analysis of the surveillance camera footage released last month show clearer images of the Tamir’s final moments and death, but did not provide conclusive images one way or the other of whether the boy reached into his waistband and produced a weapon before being shot.
Legal experts have been divided on the legality of the shooting. Experts commissioned by the local prosecutor determined that the shooting was tragic but legally justified. Attorneys for Tamir’s family, however, said the prosecutor’s outside experts were biased and offered their own expert testimony — which concluded that the shooting was not legally justified. Earlier this week, Tamir’s mother and two of his siblings appeared before the grand jury.
“The investigation is continuing and ultimately the Grand Jury will make its decision based on all the evidence,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, in a statement.
The Rice family has repeatedly questioned the integrity of the investigation, and has called for McGinty to step aside and allow for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
“And of course, neither officer explains why they left a 12-year-old boy bleeding and dying on the ground after shooting him,” the Rice family attorneys said. “The Rice family hopes that the grand jury will see through this and seek justice for Tamir with an indictment.”
This post has been updated. First published: Dec. 1.
CLARIFICATION: The original version contained an allegation from Tamir Rice’s family attorneys that the officers involved gave unsworn statements. The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office clarified Tuesday evening that both officers statements were given under oath.