The year is ending on a less than hopeful note in terms of justice for Black lives taken by police.
The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it has closed the investigation into the November 2014 killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio, and will not make any federal charges against the officers involved.
Tamir was playing with a toy gun on a playground outside a recreation center when Cleveland Police Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback pulled up on the scene. The officers were responding to a 911 call from someone who reported a juvenile playing with a gun that was probably fake, though the dispatcher did not relay those details. Video footage of the incident shows that Loehmann shot the young boy within seconds after getting out of his patrol car.
But in its statement on the decision not to charge either of the officers, the Justice Department said the video footage is “grainy, shot from a distance, does not show detail or perspective, and portions of the incident are not visible because of the location of the patrol car.”
“To fully assess whether this shooting constituted an unreasonable use of force, career prosecutors closely examined, among other things, the evidence concerning the movement of Tamir’s arms and hands just prior to the shots. As mentioned, the video footage is of extremely poor quality and has gaps in time of up to one second. The footage does not establish that Tamir was drawing a weapon from his waistband; however, the footage also does not establish that Tamir was not reaching for a gun when Officers Loehmann and Garmback state that he was doing so,” reads the statement.
Though the statement acknowledges that Loehmann shot Tamir within seconds, it also cites statements from the officer and his partner that they gave “multiple commands” to Tamir before the shooting.
The department said there was ultimately insufficient evidence to find that Loehmann’s actions were unreasonable, which is the burden to meet in order to establish a federal civil rights violation.
The decision comes several weeks after a report that the Justice Department had essentially stopped actively investigating the incident last year and had begun slowing down the federal inquiry into Rice’s death when the Trump Administration took office.
Subodh Chandra, attorney for the Rice family, told the AP that the Justice Department’s “process was tainted.”
“It’s beyond comprehension that the Department couldn’t recognize that an officer who claims he shouted commands when the patrol car’s window was closed and it was a winter day is lying,” she said. “The Rice family has been cheated of a fair process yet again.”
A grand jury chose not to indict Loehmann or Garmback in Tamir’s killing in 2015, but Loehmann was later fired from the Cleveland Police Department after it was discovered that he lied on his application for the job and had been found unfit for duty with “an emotional inability to function” at his previous police role.