- Zoe Salzmanone of the attorneys representing the Tamir Rice family.
- Rian Brownco-founder of the Cleveland chapter of Black Lives Matter.
As Cleveland officials agree to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit by the family of Tamir Rice, the youngest victim in a spate of well-known police killings of unarmed African Americans, we speak with Zoe Salzman, one of his family’s attorneys, and with Rian Brown, an organizer from Black Lives Matter in Cleveland. Under the terms of the settlement, Cleveland will reportedly admit to no wrongdoing, and the Rice family will drop its complaint against the two officers, including the one who shot the 12-year-old child in 2014 while he was playing with a toy pellet gun in a Cleveland park. A 911 caller reported seeing Rice with a weapon but noted it was “probably fake.” That information was not relayed to the responding officers, who shot him within two seconds of arriving at the scene. A grand jury has failed to bring charges against either of the officers. Brown notes the prosecutor in the case was elected out of office in a recent primary, and says Black Lives Matter activists will now focus on calling for the officers to be fired.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the state Capitol building. But we begin our show with a landmark settlement in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, the youngest victim in a spate of well-known police killings of unarmed African Americans. Cleveland officials have agreed to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Rice family. It may be the largest settlement Cleveland has ever reached in a police shooting case. Under the terms of the deal, Cleveland will reportedly admit to no wrongdoing, and the Rice family will drop its complaint against the two officers, including the one who shot the 12-year-old child. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson spoke to reporters Monday.
MAYOR FRANK JACKSON: We have settled the legal side of the lawsuit in regards to the Rice family and estate. And as you also know, this has been a very difficult time for the Rice family, in particular, but for Cleveland, in general, in the community. And while we have settled the legal side of this and the court proceeding side of this for $6 million, there is no price that you can put on the life, of the loss of a 12-year-old child.
AMY GOODMAN: Tamir Rice was killed November 22nd, 2014, while 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 apparently 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, and handcuffed her and put her in their cruiser, as the boy lay dying on the ground. Tamir died of his injuries the following day.
Last year, a grand jury failed to bring charges against either of the officers, but a federal civil rights investigation is still pending. One of the officers, Timothy Loehmann, was deemed unfit for police service over two years ago when he worked in the suburb of Independence. A letter from a superior specifically criticizes Loehmann’s performance in firearms training, saying, quote, “He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal.” That had happened before he was an officer in Cleveland. Meanwhile, officer Frank Garmback, the officer who was driving the police cruiser, also had a troubled history. Cleveland reportedly paid out $100,000 to a Cleveland resident named Tamela Eaton to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought against Garmback.
Well, for more, we’re joined now in New York by Zoe Salzman, one of the attorneys representing the Tamir Rice family. And we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Rian Brown, an organizer with the Cleveland chapter of Black Lives Matter.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Zoe Salzman, can you please explain this settlement? And what does it mean that the—that Cleveland has to admit no wrongdoing?
ZOE SALZMAN: So, as part of most legal settlements like this, Amy, the defendants in the case typically do not admit wrongdoing. It is a way to end a lawsuit, but, especially in a case like this, there is no real resolution or closure for Tamir’s family. There is no settlement, no amount of money, that could ever make things right for them. They lost a son and a brother and a 12-year-old child on November 22nd, 2014. And there’s just nothing that could ever make that right for them.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the terms of the settlement, Zoe?
ZOE SALZMAN: It’s quite simple, Amy. It is a payment, as you said, of $6 million, the bulk of which is allocated to the estate of Tamir Rice, and a small portion of which is allocated to the separate claims of his mother, Samaria Rice, and his baby sister, who, as you said, you know, had her own terrible interaction with the police that day. When she learned her brother had been shot and ran to the scene, she was tackled to the police—by the police. One witness described it as clotheslining her. She was then handcuffed and dragged to a police car. They made her sit in that police car for over half an hour, while her brother lay dying next to her in the snow. So, this is a child who’s experienced something that none of us can really fathom or comprehend, so part of the settlement is to compensate her, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: In January, Tamir’s sister, Tajai Rice, spoke on The Today Show about how, after the shooting, the police tackled her to the ground, as you said, handcuffed her, placed her in the cruiser, feet from her dying brother.
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: Zoe Salzman, does this settlement, the $6 million settlement, settle everything brought by the family? Is this the only lawsuit they had?
ZOE SALZMAN: That’s right, Amy. This is the only lawsuit they had. The family brought this case in federal court, under the federal civil rights statute, to really try to get some justice and some accountability for Tamir’s death and to try to prevent any other family from experiencing the loss that they experienced. And so that was very much their hope in bringing the case and very much their hope now that there is a settlement. It is, as you noted at the beginning, a historic settlement. While it is not enough to compensate for the life of a 12-year-old boy, it is the largest amount that the city of Cleveland has ever paid to settle a police shooting like this. And it’s certainly the hope of the Rice family that this settlement will, you know, really shine a light on the problem of police excessive force and violence that is plaguing our country, and really, hopefully, serve as a platform for broader reform and change that is so desperately needed.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the history of these two officers, Timothy Loehmann, who—forced out of the Independence police force because of his low impulse control around a gun, and Frank Garmback—the police department had just settled an excessive force case involving him. Is there no chance of prosecution now? And also, what about a Department of Justice investigation?
ZOE SALZMAN: Well, at the local level, former Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty really carried out a great miscarriage of justice in the way that he handled the grand jury process there. He was just determined to exonerate these officers and to make sure that they never face criminal accountability for their actions. He hired experts to defend their actions and to tell the grand jury they had done nothing wrong. He allowed them to testify without cross-examining them. And at the end of the day, he recommended to the grand jury that no criminal charges be brought. So it’s been the view of the Rice family for a long time now that, unfortunately and regrettably, there has been no real, impartial investigation and attempt to prosecute the officers who killed Tamir Rice. And at the local level, it appears that that process is now truly at an end. And that’s why the family reached out to the federal Department of Justice. And it is certainly their hope that, at the very least, the Department of Justice will conduct the impartial investigation that we haven’t had to date, and hopefully there will be an ability to bring charges at the federal level. But as far as the local level is concerned, it seems that the prosecutor was successful in getting these officers off the hook.
And as you say, these are officers who really should never have been carrying guns in the streets in the first place. They should never have been hired. Then they were poorly trained. They were part of a department that has a long history of excessive force, that’s been monitored by the federal government for over a decade now. And then, you know, all of that really set the stage, if you will. It was almost a perfect storm of events leading up to the shooting of Tamir Rice.
But I want to make very clear, I think there’s been a sense from local officials in Cleveland that this was an accident or a tragedy, and that somehow Tamir himself was to blame for part of that tragedy. And that is just simply not the case. Our investigation in this case revealed that Tamir was actually shot in less than one second. Officer Loehmann, the shooter, jumped out of a still-moving police car. The car had not come to a stop yet. And he leapt out of the car with his gun already drawn, already pointed at Tamir, the safety already off. And within less than one second, he had fired the fatal shots that killed Tamir.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Rian Brown into this conversation, organizer with the Cleveland chapter of Black Lives Matter. Your response to this record settlement in Cleveland, $6 million to Tamir Rice’s family?
RIAN BROWN: I think my first response was this is not justice, and this is not enough. As a resident of Cleveland and a registered voter, I’m really disappointed that the city of Cleveland, that can pay millions of dollars to let Donald Trump and our awful governor, Kasich, run a three-ring circus this summer at the Republican National Convention, really only thought that $6 million was enough for all the trauma and violence that they’ve done to the Rice family.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the head of the Cleveland police union issued a statement saying Tamir Rice’s family should use the money from the $6 million settlement to educate children about the use of look-alike firearms. In the statement, Steve Loomis said, quote, “We can only hope the Rice family and their attorneys will use a portion of this settlement to help educate the youth of Cleveland in the dangers associated with the mishandling of both real and facsimile firearms. Something positive must come from this tragic loss. That would be educating youth of the dangers of possessing a real or replica firearm.” What’s your response, Rian?
RIAN BROWN: I think Steve Loomis has continued to be disgusting to the Rice family and make awful comments and just reinflict trauma. And I think, actually, my response is not to Steve Loomis; my response is to Mayor Frank Jackson and Calvin Williams. I think something good could come out of this, and actually we should use these officers’ salaries, officers Garmback and Loehmann’s salaries, to fund and re-enfranchise and invest in black youth. So, if we want to use any money, we should use the city of Cleveland’s money, because it’s disgusting that these two officers, that did a drive-by on a 12-year-old boy in the park, still are employees of the city of Cleveland.
AMY GOODMAN: What is Black Lives Matter—what will be the official response? And where do you go from here, Rian Brown?
RIAN BROWN: Yeah, so, I don’t know how many of you all are aware, but we had a recent victory: We actually got Tim McGinty out of office for his, you know, lack of accountability to black folks in the city of Cleveland. And so, we voted McGinty out of office. And so Timothy McGinty no longer has a job. And so, our next steps is to make sure—
AMY GOODMAN: He lost the primary?
RIAN BROWN: Yes, he lost the primary. And so, that was actually a victory of our organizing efforts in a campaign called “McGinty Must Go.” And I think the next steps for Black Lives Matter is to make sure that these officers no longer have a job. And I think we’ve shown that we’re building the people power to do these types of things.
AMY GOODMAN: So, both officers, Loehmann and Garmback, remain on the Cleveland police force?
RIAN BROWN: Yes, that is correct.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end it there. I want to thank you both for being with us, Rian Brown, organizer with the Cleveland chapter of Black Lives Matter, and thanks to Zoe Salzman, attorney representing the Tamir Rice family.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to another case, this one in New York, the story of Samuel Harrell, who was beaten and thrown down a flight of stairs in prison by a group of officers, guards, known as the Beat Up Squad. He died. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Ballad for Tamir” by Blitz the Ambassador, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.