The Justice Department notified Tamir’s family last month that it was closing its years-long investigation and that it would not press charges against the Cleveland police officers who killed Tamir.
A whistleblower complaint had revealed in October, however, that the Justice Department had already effectively ended the investigation. Thanks to the whistleblower, it’s clear that the department’s December letter misrepresents the truth. The truth is both simple and haunting.
Tamir Rice was a boy. On Nov. 22, 2014, he was doing something lots of boys enjoy: playing with a toy gun in a park near his house. When Cleveland police officers pulled up, Tamir wasn’t brandishing his pellet gun. The toy wasn’t even visible. No one else was around, so no one was in any danger.
But officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of the squad car while it was still rolling and shot Tamir in less than two seconds.
Why would a police officer instantly shoot a child when there was no imminent danger? There is only one answer: Tamir was Black.
Loehmann testified that he gave Tamir multiple commands to raise his hands. He lied. Video footage of the shooting shows that was impossible: Loehmann immediately opened fire as the police car, driven by officer Frank Garmback, was pulling up. There was no time for multiple commands, much less time for Tamir to comply with such commands had they been given.
Nevertheless, local prosecutors recommended that a grand jury decline to indict in 2015, ensuring that Loehmann and Garmback didn’t face criminal charges in Ohio.
The only hope Tamir’s family had for justice was with the federal civil rights investigation opened during the Obama administration.
Career attorneys in the Justice Department — apolitical civil servants who conducted the investigation — twice sought to convene a federal grand jury to bring charges against Loehmann, the whistleblower revealed. These attorneys knew they had the evidence to bring charges. But both times those requests were stymied by Trump administration political appointees at the Justice Department. They sat on the requests for years, though the department typically rubber-stamps such requests in weeks. They did not have the integrity to inform Tamir’s mother of their decision. Instead, they opted to run out the clock on the relevant statutes of limitations, which allowed them to silently kill the investigation without formally ending it. This way, they avoided accountability for Tamir’s death and other, similar tragedies. After the whistleblower’s complaint exposed this tactic, the department formally closed the investigation.
These actions were part of a pattern during Donald Trump’s presidency. Under the leadership of former attorney general Jeff Sessions and then under former attorney general William P. Barr, the Justice Department repeatedly refused to bring investigations into systemic civil rights violations by police departments around the country and improperly ended investigations that were opened.
Rigged legal outcomes might be expected in an autocracy. The United States deserves, and by law demands, better. Americans nationwide are sick of politics infiltrating every aspect of society and our everyday lives. The Justice Department is supposed to uphold the rule of law without yielding to the bruising tides of politics. To allow politics to dominate departmental decision-making undermines its reason for existing.
The Rice family demands nothing more than fairness.
It cannot stand that sufficient evidence exists to convene a grand jury but that politics trumps the law. The officers deserve criminal accountability, not political shelter.
Thanks to Justice Department delay tactics, the statute of limitations has run out for federal charges of obstruction of justice, which should have been brought against Loehmann and Garmback for the lies they told about giving Tamir multiple commands before fatally shooting him. But there is no statute of limitations on prosecuting Loehmann for killing Tamir in violation of his civil rights. Under Ohio law, there is also still time for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor to charge the officers with obstruction of justice.
Tamir Rice’s family has been failed by all levels of government: municipal, county, state and federal. They were failed by the officers who killed Tamir. They were failed by the legal system’s refusal to hold anyone accountable. But it is not too late to get justice for Tamir.
We call on the Biden administration’s incoming attorney general, Merrick Garland, who has professed his commitment to the rule of law, to reopen the investigation into the killing of Tamir Rice.