The grand jury that opted last month not to charge a Cleveland police officer for shooting and killing Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, determined the shooting was justified and never voted on any specific criminal charges, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
Had the jurors deemed the shooting unjustified, they then would have voted specifically on whether criminal charges should result, Joseph Frolik, spokesman for Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, said Wednesday.
McGinty had announced a grand jury’s decision not to bring criminal charges in the case last month. The death of Rice, who was playing with a toy gun at a park when he was killed, was one of several recent, high-profile shootings that prompted protests over how police use deadly force.
On Wednesday, the Cleveland Scene reported that the jurors did not vote on charges in the case, citing an interview in which Frolik said there had not been a vote. The Scene’s story raised questions about how a decision was reached in the case if no vote took place.
After that report was published, Frolik spoke to The Washington Post and said he was specifically referring to a vote on criminal charges, but clarified that the grand jurors did vote on whether the shooting was justified.
In a statement, McGinty’s office said that a grand jury “deliberates and votes on the justification issue” at the conclusion of an investigation.
“If the Grand Jury decides that the fatal use of force was justified under the circumstances, then the Grand Jury investigation is concluded,” the statement said. “If the Grand Jury votes that the use of force was not justified, then it will consider criminal charges and return a true bill or a no-bill on those charges.”
Vince Grzegorek, editor-in-chief of Cleveland Scene, told The Post that Frolik did not make that clear to reporters asking about what happened and only told them no vote took place.
Frolik said he had seen other grand juries act similarly in Cuyahoga County.
“I don’t want to say it happens all the time, but it’s not a rarity, it’s not an anomaly that a grand jury will basically investigate a case and end up at the end saying there’s nothing to vote on here, or there’s no charges to be filed,” he said in a telephone interview.
A document released Wednesday by the prosecutor’s office showed the formal record of the jury’s decision.
The one-line statement, signed by the jury foreman and dated Dec. 28, 2015, said: “The Grand Jurors have concluded the investigation into the November 22, 2014 death of Tamir Rice and have declined to issue criminal charges.”
The Scene reported that it had requested documents showing the official decision but was told no such document existed. Frolik said Wednesday that the prosecutor’s office did not initially realize they had a copy of it, saying they only realized late Wednesday afternoon that someone in the office had copied it before the decision was delivered to the clerk of courts.
“This case has been complicated from the start and weeks after the announcement, there is much about the process that still needs to be reported on and learned,” Grzegorek wrote in an email Wednesday night. “Until today, for example, many people — judges, lawyers, members of the Prosecutor’s Office, clerks in the county court — assumed the grand jury returned a no-bill. That wasn’t the case.”
Rice’s death was one of several incidents that drew heightened scrutiny over cases of police using deadly force, particularly against black men and boys. He was fatally shot on Nov. 22, 2014. Officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, came to the park in response to a call about a man with a gun.
While the caller told the dispatcher that this person was possibly a child playing with a toy, that was not relayed to Loehmann and Garmback, who handled the call as an “active shooter” situation, authorities said.