By Albert Lin
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled last week that the death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot by police on Nov. 22 while brandishing a toy pellet gun, was a homicide. The finding does not indicate whether a crime was committed; it merely means that Rice was killed by the police officer’s bullets, and that he did not die accidentally or from natural causes.
The official cause of death was listed as “a gunshot wound of the torso with injuries of major vessel, intestine and pelvis.”
Questions have been raised as to whether Officer Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shots, was fit for duty. He joined the City of Cleveland Division of Police in March following his resignation from the suburban Independence Police Departmentafter being told that the department was preparing to fire him.
In IPD records obtained by CNN, Deputy Chief Jim Polak relayed an incident at a state range qualification course during which Loehmann “was distracted and weepy. He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal.”
Loehmann blamed his mood on a four-month-old breakup. Later that day, he told his field training officer (FTO), “Maybe I should quit,” “I have no friends,” “I only hang out with 73-year-old priests.”
Loehmann’s FTO also told Polak three other unsettling stories about Loehmann: 1) Loehmann once left his firearm in his locker overnight without a lock; 2) he lied about skipping out on part of his orientation; and 3) he took off his bulletproof vest despite being told to wear it to get used to it.
After interviewing Loehmann and his FTO, Polak concluded that Loehmann lacked sufficient emotional maturity and had a penchant for ignoring orders. Polak wrote: “I do not believe Ptl. Loehmann shows the maturity needed to work in our employment. I am recommending that he be released from the employment of the City of Independence. I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies.”
‘It’s Probably Fake’
Rice was shot outside a recreation center. A witness had called 911 to report a Black male with a gun. “There’s a guy in there with a pistol, you know, it’s probably fake, but he’s like pointing it at everybody,” the caller said. “He’s sitting on a swing right now, but he’s pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people. He’s probably a juvenile, you know”
It is unclear whether the 911 dispatcher relayed the witness’ suspicions that the gun was not real or that the suspect was a minor. In fact, a police union official said the officers expected someone who was closer to 20 years old.
Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, said that she did not allow her son to play with toy guns, and that the gun he was carrying was given to him by a friend.
Surveillance video shows Rice being shot almost as soon as the officers stopped their patrol car. (Most reports say within two seconds.) Cleveland police say that Loehmann discharged his weapon not after Rice pointed his gun at him, but only after Rice reached for it in his waistband. The gun was “indistinguishable from a real firearm,” Chief Calvin Williams said.
“Officers at times are required to make critical decisions in a split second,” Williams added. “Unfortunately, this was one of those times.”
Making matters worse, Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, did not attempt to treat Rice. An FBI agent who happened to be near the scene arrived and performed mouth-to-mouth on the boy, about four minutes after he was shot. Rice died about nine hours later.
Interestingly, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found that members of the Cleveland police department draw their weapons too quickly and called out the department for using deadly force as a first resort. “We … discovered that officers do not effectively de-escalate situations, either because they do not know how, or because they do not have an adequate understanding of the importance of de-escalating encounters before resorting to force whenever possible,” the DOJ report says.
‘Justice for Tamir Rice’
Like the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths, Rice’s shooting has also resulted in protests and demonstrations.
There is one major difference between Rice’s death and Brown’s and Garner’s: The Rice family is not claiming that the shooting was racially motivated. “We don’t know what was in [Loehmann’s] heart, so we don’t want to speculate,” Rice family attorney Benjamin Crump said on the Today show. “But we think the matter would have been handled differently if it was a different community and the officer had been trained better.”
A crowd of about 200 gathered in Cleveland three days after Rice was shot, protesting his death as well as the Brown grand-jury decision. The protesters blocked the Memorial Shoreway, shouting, “No justice, no peace,” and “Hey, ho, these killer cops must go!” A smaller group followed a day later, marching from Cleveland City Hall to Quicken Loans Arena.
In the wake of the Garner-inspired “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a T-shirt during warmups before Sunday’s NFL game that read “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.” Crawford is the Black man who was shot at Walmart for looking at a BB gun.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Jeff Follmer called Hawkins’ shirt “pathetic” and said that Hawkins should stick to football. “He doesn’t talk about the fact that [Rice] didn’t respond to our officer’s commands and tried to pull the gun from his waistband,” said Follmer, a detective.
Hawkins’ response: “My wearing of the T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department. My wearing of the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason to innocent people.”