An Ohio grand jury has decided there will be no charges in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old African-American boy Tamir Rice. On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy pellet gun in a Cleveland park. A 911 caller reported seeing him with a weapon but noted it was "probably fake" and that the individual was "probably a juvenile"—that information was not relayed to the responding officers. After their police cruiser pulled up in front of Tamir, Officer Timothy Loehmann shot him within two seconds. Neither Loehmann nor his partner, Frank Garmback, administered any first aid to try to save Tamir’s life. They then tackled Tamir’s 14-year-old sister to the ground as she ran to her brother’s side, and handcuffed and put her in their cruiser as the boy lay dying on the ground. Tamir died of his injuries the following day. After a more than year-long investigation, the grand jury returned a decision Monday not to indict. "We are in shock," says Tamir Rice’s cousin, Latonya Goldsby. "We can’t believe this decision came down the way it did."
AMY GOODMAN: An Ohio grand jury has decided there will be no charges for the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, the youngest victim in a spate of well-known police killings of unarmed African Americans. On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy pellet gun in a Cleveland park. A 911 caller reported seeing him with a weapon but noted it was "probably fake" and that the individual was "probably a juvenile"—that information was not relayed to the responding officers. But family members and their supporters say that miscommunication did not justify what followed.
After their police cruiser pulled up in front of Tamir, Officer Timothy Loehmann shot him within two seconds. Neither Loehmann nor his partner, Frank Garmback, administered any first aid to try to save Tamir’s life. They then tackled Tamir’s 14-year-old sister to the ground as she ran to her brother’s side, handcuffed her and put her in their cruiser as the boy lay dying on the ground. Tamir died of his injuries the following day.
After a more than year-long investigation, the grand jury returned a decision Monday not to indict. The county prosecutor, Timothy McGinty, said he had recommended that outcome, citing a "perfect storm" of human error and miscommunication.
TIMOTHY McGINTY: Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police. ... The police officers and the police department must live with the awful knowledge that their mistakes, however unintentional, led to the death of a 12-year-old boy. So will the police radio personnel whose errors were substantial contributing factors to the tragic outcome. They passed along detailed information about the guy, outside the rec center, his clothing, including the colors of his coat and his camouflage hat, but not the all-important facts that the 911 caller said the gunman was probably, quote, 'probably a juvenile' and the gun may not be real. Had the officers been aware of these qualifiers, the training officer who was driving might have approached the scene with less urgency.
AMY GOODMAN: Cleveland protesters reacted to the decision with a somber gathering at the park where Tamir Rice was killed. In a statement, Tamir Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, said, quote, "In a time in which a non-indictment for two police officers who have killed an unarmed black child is business as usual, we mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice. In our view, this process demonstrates that race is still an extremely troubling and serious problem in our country and the criminal-justice system. I don’t want my child to have died for nothing and I refuse to let his legacy or his name be ignored. We will continue to fight for justice for him, and for all families who must live with the pain that we live with."
Samaria Rice also questioned the prosecutor’s motives, saying, quote, "McGinty deliberately sabotaged the case, never advocating for my son, and acting instead like the police officers’ defense attorney." Attorneys for the Rice family have asked the Justice Department to intervene over what they call "extreme bias" and "a charade process aimed at exonerating the officers." The Rice family has filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against Cleveland and the two officers involved. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division also continues its own probe. The prosecution faced criticism for an unusual grand jury process that dragged on for more than a year, saw the officers testify without cross-examination, and called so-called independent experts who the Rice family says were cherry-picked to encourage a non-indictment. Other experts did find probable cause, including a municipal court judge who recommended Officer Loehmann be charged with murder, manslaughter and reckless homicide.
Questions have also been raised about Officer Loehmann’s past. Loehmann had been deemed unfit for police service in 2012 when he worked in the suburb of Independence. A letter from a superior specifically criticizes Loehmann’s performance in firearms training, saying, "He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal," said his superior.
Meanwhile, Officer Frank Garmback, the officer who was driving the police cruiser, also has a troubled history. Cleveland reportedly paid out $100,000 in 2014 to a Cleveland resident named Tamela Eaton to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought against Garmback. The settlement stemmed from a 2010 confrontation in which Eaton said Garmback, quote, "rushed her, placed her in a chokehold, tackled her to the ground, twisted her wrist and began hitting her body."
At Monday’s news conference, Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Meyer explained the non-indictment by stressing that the toy gun Tamir Rice was holding looked real.
MATTHEW MEYER: Tamir had gotten a gun from a friend, who told investigators that he had removed the orange tip, the safety tip, that the gun had come with. And we have the model that had been purchased at a local Wal-Mart. And you’ll see that, as purchased, this Airsoft pistol should have had that orange safety tip to hopefully alert officers that this in fact was a toy. But the pistol that Tamir had that day had no such tip.
AMY GOODMAN: Prosecutors also emphasized that the officers thought Tamir Rice looked older than his age, and responded in line with the rules on active-shooter situations. But as has been asked so often in a series of killings of unarmed African Americans by police, the question remains: Would Tamir Rice be alive today if his skin was white?
For more, we’re joined by three guests. In Cleveland, Latonya Goldsby is with us. She’s Tamir Rice’s cousin. Also there, Elle Hearns, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Cleveland. And joining us by Democracy Now! video stream is Billy Joe Mills, one of the attorneys representing the Tamir Rice family.
Latonya, let’s go to you first. First of all, our condolences. Although this death took place over a year ago, I know you are reliving this today. Can you respond to the grand jury’s non-indictment of the officers?
LATONYA GOLDSBY: Yes. Thank you for your condolences. It’s truly appreciated. We’re in shock. We’re totally in shock. We can’t believe that this decision came down the way it did. Although we have seen other cases around the country where it has been a non-indictment, we still had hope that there would be some type of resolution or an indictment or an arrest of these officers for the actions that were taken that day when they killed Tamir.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for now?
LATONYA GOLDSBY: Now, our call is for the officers to be arrested, and for somehow—or to be fired. We’re still looking for Loretta Lynch to step in and intervene and to see if there is some type of resolution that can be made as far as these officers actually facing charges.
AMY GOODMAN: Latonya, can you go back to that day? Now, you weren’t at the park, but at this point what you understood took place?
LATONYA GOLDSBY: Yes. I got the call about what happened, and it was actually a couple hours after Tamir had already been rushed to the emergency room when we found out that this was actually our little 12-year-old cousin that had been shot by the police. That day was just very chaotic. There was no answers, no questions, as to what had happened that day. We still don’t know what happened. All we know is that Tamir was playing in a park, and he was shot by the police. Later in the video that was released, we’ve seen what had taken place. He never even stood a chance. In less than one second, he was approached and he was shot, within that one second. So there was never any chance for survival or for him to be actually questioned about what he was doing at the park or anything.
AMY GOODMAN: In January, Tamir’s 14-year-old sister, your cousin Tajai, spoke on the Today show about how, after the shooting, she ran to Tamir, but the police tackled her to the ground, then handcuffed her and placed her in the cruiser, feet from her dying brother. This is what she said.
TAJAI RICE: I ran to the gazebo, and I couldn’t get there all the way to him, because the officer attacked me, threw me on the ground, tackled me on the ground, put me in handcuffs, and put me in the back of the police car, right next to his body.
AMY GOODMAN: How is Tajai today, Latonya?
LATONYA GOLDSBY: Tajai is doing as well as could be expected. She lost her 12-year-old brother. We have just went through Christmas, his mom’s birthday, Thanksgiving without him. It’s very hard. It’s difficult to actually have to watch his murder play out over TV every day, the video just replaying constantly. You see his last few moments of life in that video. So it’s been very hard. But we’re—she’s dealing.
AMY GOODMAN: Billy Joe Mills, you’re one of the attorneys for the family. The prosecutor says that when you look carefully at the video, that Tamir Rice was actually reaching to get the gun. He said maybe he was actually going to give it to the police officers, but that’s not what the police officers thought. Your response to the grand jury decision and the prosecutor being very clear in recommending non-indictment, saying it was a perfect storm?
BILLY JOE MILLS: [inaudible] emphasize that I think, and the family’s attorneys think, that he is part of that perfect storm of human error. He’s contributing to the injustice by creating a 400-day investigation and, essentially, cover-up that allowed him time to find experts that would say this shooting was justified, to find grand jury members that—essentially, what they do is they control the entire process, the way that the information is presented. And so, what’s very interesting, you just mentioned that McGinty talked about the way that Tamir was pulling on the gun or touching the gun as the officers arrived. But the experts that McGinty hired himself said and admit in their report that that is unclear. And then we presented evidence, the family took the step of presenting experts, three experts, all of whom—
AMY GOODMAN: Billy Joe Mills, we’re going to—we’re going to reconnect with you to get a better-quality sound. We’re going to go to break and then come back. Billy Joe Mills is one of the attorneys for the Tamir Rice family. We’re also joined by Tamir’s cousin, Latonya Goldsby. And Elle Hearns will also speak to us, one of the organizers of Black Lives Matter Cleveland. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guests are in Cleveland and on the road to New York from Cleveland. Billy Joe Mills is with us, one of the attorneys for the Rice family. Latonya Goldsby is Tamir’s cousin. And Elle Hearns is with Black Lives Matter Cleveland.
Elle Hearns, what are the options now? Layonya mentioned Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney general, a civil rights investigation. The family has a lawsuit. What are you demanding in Black Lives Matter?
ELLE HEARNS: Yeah, that’s a wonderful question. We’re definitely demanding what the family is asking for support with, which is definitely demanding for the DOJ to support an investigation of the happenings here in Cleveland. We’re also demanding for the immediate firing of the officers. It’s really an insult that officers that are responsible for the murder of a child still are actively employed and that the city is providing them space to continuously be employed and also supported by city funds. So, you know, a lot of what we are demanding is really reflective of the family and the support that they are asking for directly from officials, elected officials, and also the local community in Cleveland, and what they have been rallying around for the last year and also around the murders of other black people in the city of Cleveland at the hands of the police.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn back to Billy Joe Mills. The family of Tamir Rice, Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, has said that the prosecutor sabotaged the case. Are there other avenues to pursue this outside of the civil rights investigation by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office? Let me put that question to Elle Hearns as we get Billy Joe Mills on the line.
ELLE HEARNS: Yeah. So, other avenues that I think, from a legal space—that’s not necessarily my expertise, but what I will say is that anytime there is no justice provided to the life of someone that is taken, it will always provide space for a movement to exist. When the life of a child is taken, when the life of Tamir is not honored in the judicial process, that will always provide space for organizers, activists, community members to be involved in really exercising their First Amendment rights and also advocating for what they feel best is the need directly in their community. And that is to make sure that the community is safe, and not just safe from intercommunity violence, but also the violence at the hands of the police. And we’ve seen consistently in the city of Cleveland that the police are the biggest culprits of a lot of the violence in the overpolicing within the community. So, you know, the other avenues are definitely for the community to have investments, so that they can actually dictate what’s happening in their community and who actually is in power, so that another senseless murder of someone’s child doesn’t happen again.