An Ohio grand jury has decided not to return an indictment in the 2014 police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, prosecutor Tim McGinty said Monday.
A recent FBI video analysis shows Tamir “was drawing his gun from his waist as the police slid toward him and Officer Loehmann exited the car,” McGinty said. After the shooting, officers discovered it was a toy gun.
To charge Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback even in a situation that was “undeniably tragic,” McGinty said, “the state must be able to show that the officers acted outside the constitutional boundaries set forth by the Supreme Court of these United States.”
“Simply put: Given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police.”
It was “reasonable” to believe the officer who killed the boy believed Tamir was a threat, the prosecutor said.
The officer was in training outside a Cleveland recreation center where Tamir had been playing on November 22, 2014.
The shooting sparked controversy given Tamir’s age and the fact that he had a gun that resembled a handgun.
Tamir’s family released a statement saying they were “saddened and disappointed by this outcome — but not surprised.”
“It has been clear for months now that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty was abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment.”
It also said, “The Rice family is grateful for all the community support they have received and urges people who want to express their disappointment with how Prosecutor McGinty has handled this process to do so peacefully and democratically. We renew our request that the Department of Justice step in to conduct a real investigation into this tragic shooting of a 12-year-old child.”
A tragedy but not a crime
McGinty called Tamir’s killing an “absolute tragedy.”
“But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime,” he said. He said he has “heard the chants” that cry for justice for the boy.
“We too want justice for Tamir,” he said. But it would not be justice to bring charges against the officers involved in the shooting if those charges “could not be sustained.” That, however, “doesn’t mean the legal system is done,” he said. The civil courts may provide some accountability to the boy’s family “that they deserve,” McGinty said.
The shooting of a child should “never happen again,” he said, and he urged that toy gun manufacturers stop making their products look so much like real guns.
A witness at the recreation center called 911, reporting there was “a guy with a pistol,” adding that the weapon was “probably” fake.
Information that the gun the caller saw was probably not real and that the person holding it appeared to be a juvenile was not conveyed to Loehmann and Garmback, according to recordings that law enforcement released.
When the officers arrived they encountered a person who looked much older than 12 and in communication played for reporters Monday, one of the officers can be heard relaying that a person in their 20s had been shot.
Prosecutors described Tamir as very big for his age. He weighed 170 pounds, was 5 foot 7 and wore a size 36 pants.
“At the point where they suddenly came together, both Tamir and the rookie officer were no doubt frightened,” McGinty said. “If we put ourselves in the victim’s shoes, as prosecutors and detectives try to do, it is likely that Tamir, whose size made him look much older and who had been warned his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day, either intended to hand it over to the officers or show them it wasn’t a real gun.
“But there was no way for the officers to know that, because they saw the events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective. Just minutes before the event, assigned and ordered to respond to a code one report of a ‘guy’ pointing a gun at people outside the rec center. That guy, they had been told, was dressed exactly as Tamir was.”
The officers were “prepared to face a possible active shooter in a neighborhood with a history of violence,” McGinty continued. “There are, in fact, memorials to two slain Cleveland police officers in that very park, a short distance away, and both had been shot to death nearby in the line of duty. Police are trained that it only takes a third of a second or less to draw and fire a weapon at them. Therefore, they must react quickly to any threat.”
A realistic toy
Video of the incident shows a patrol car pull up on the snowy grass near a gazebo where Tamir is standing. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, Loehmann shoots the boy.
Several witnesses the prosecutors said were interviewed described seeing the boy throughout the day, removing the toy gun that a friend had given to him from his waistband and pointing it at people.
On Monday, officials showed a photo of the toy gun next to a real Colt model to illustrate how similar they appeared, especially when the toy gun’s orange safety tip is removed.
Prosecutors said they hired an outside expert to evaluate video that was, on its own, too difficult to easily discern.
In their statement, Tamir’s family blasted that move.
“It is unheard of, and highly improper, for a prosecutor to hire ‘experts’ to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation. These are the sort of ‘experts’ we would expect the officer’s criminal-defense attorney to hire — not the prosecutor.”
Kimberly Crawford, a 20-year veteran of the FBI and a former instructor at the agency’s academy, has previously said that when the officers approached Tamir they were responding to a report of a male suspect with a gun he kept pulling from his pants.
“The after-acquired information — that the individual was 12 years old, and the weapon in question was an ‘airsoft gun’– is not relevant to a constitutional review of Officer Loehmann’s actions,” she writes in one of the other reports posted Saturday.
She says Loehmann was required to make a threat assessment and a split-second decision on whether to shoot.
“His response was a reasonable one,” Crawford has written.
McGinty had previously said his office wasn’t using the reports to reach a conclusion and the grand jury would get to consider all the evidence once the investigation into the shooting is done.
In June, McGinty released the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office report. Also that month — in a nonbinding review of the case — a Cleveland judge found probable cause for the charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against Loehmann.
By Steve Almasy and Ashley Fantz, CNN
CNN’s John Murgatroyd, Tony Marco, Dana Ford, Ralph Ellis and Melissa Gray contributed to this report.