2. What happened?
On a Saturday afternoon in late November, Tamir Rice was shot by police while playing in a park across from his mom’s house. The 12-year-old boy was carrying a toy pistol with the orange indicator removed. In pictures, the Airsoft BB gun looks almost identical to a real weapon.
“It’s probably fake,” a 911 caller who saw Rice pointing the gun in the park told the police dispatcher, “but he’s waving it around at people… it’s scaring the crap out of me.”
Minutes later, police arrived at the park and pulled their car within feet of Rice. Cleveland Police Officer Frank Garmback, 46, drove the patrol car, and a rookie officer, Timothy Loehmann, 26, rode in the passenger seat. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, Loehmann opened the passenger side door and shot Rice in his torso. A police statement said that the officers asked Rice to raise his hands but the boy instead reached for the gun at his waist.
According to Jeffrey Follmer, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president, Garmback called in to the station right after the incident. “It’s already a mess,” he said. “We have a 20-year-old male shot.” A full four minutes later, the officers began administering first aid to Rice.
Rice was eventually taken to a hospital where he had surgery. He died early in the morning on Nov. 23.
Three days later, the Cleveland police department released a video of the incident which shows that Loehmann shot Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene. The police say they feared for their lives, but the family says the shooting was unnecessary.
“The video shows one thing distinctly: the police officers reacted quickly,” the Rice family said in a statement. “It is our belief that this situation could have been avoided and that Tamir should still be here with us.”
Both officers have been placed on administrative leave while an investigative team looks into the shooting.
6. Who are the officers involved?
Timothy Loehmann, the 26-year-old rookie cop who shot Tamir Rice, became a Cleveland police officer just eight months ago in March 2014.
Documents obtained by BuzzFeed News revealed that when Loehmann left his old job as a cop in Independence, Ohio, he was in the process of being fired for dismal performance, but was given a chance to resign before this happened.
Loehmann failed to disclose his troubles in Independence in his Cleveland police application. The Cleveland Police told BuzzFeed News they never asked the City of Independence for his personnel file.
Father Gerard Gonda, president of Benedictine High School in Cleveland, where Loehmann graduated high school in 2007, described him as polite, kind, mature, congenial, and gentle.
“Any connotation of racial animosity [regarding Loehmann] is unfair,” Gonda told BuzzFeed News. “It’s unfortunate that it happened at the same time that Ferguson took place. I think each incident has to be looked at in its own context.”
Gonda said he has remained close with Loehmann and left him a voicemail after the shooting, but has not heard back.
Friends and former classmates of Loehmann expressed support for him online, but all declined BuzzFeed News’ request to comment.
Multiple phone calls to Loehmann’s house were not answered. Loehmann and his brother, Tom, have both deleted their Facebook accounts.
Following the shooting, the Cleveland Division of Police released the personnel files of Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback.
The 46-year-old Garmback’s personnel file does not include any other incidents since he was appointed to the force in 2008 where excessive force was questioned. In 2011, Officer Garmback received an award after he shot a robbery suspect.
Calls to Garmback’s family and friends were not returned.
8. What Rice’s mother says happened after the shooting
At the news conference, Samaria Rice said she wants “a conviction” against the cop who shot her son. She has retained attorney Ben Crump, lawyer for the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown Jr., in the case.
According to Samaria Rice, after the shooting two boys knocked on her front door and told her that her son had been shot. She then ran across the street to see what happened.
When she arrived at the scene, she says she found her son lying on the ground bleeding, her 14-year-old daughter who was with him in the back of a police car, and the police standing around. Her daughter later told her that police tackled and handcuffed her.
Samaria Rice said she was stopped by police and threatened with arrest if she didn’t calm down.
Rice’s family is also suing the officers involved and the City of Cleveland for the wrongful death of Tamir Rice.
10. How did the police change their story?
In statements given shortly after the shooting, police officials said that Rice was with a group of boys when he was shot, Cleveland.com reported. Follmer said that Loehmann saw Rice take what looked like a pistol under a table in the park and put it into his waistband.
These statements are inconsistent with the video released by Cleveland police on Nov. 26.
The family’s attorney, Timothy Kucharski, confirmed that Rice went with friends to the park on Saturday, but throughout the seven-minute video, Rice is alone. There is no group of boys visible anywhere nearby.
When the police approach Rice, he is standing next to the gazebo, and the gun is not visible. Rice makes no movements to reach under a table when the police arrive or in the seconds before the police car enters the frame. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Follman said that the Loehmann saw Rice take the gun off the top of the table and put it in his waistband as the police car was driving toward the park. It’s possible the gun was on the table. The video is too blurry to confirm or deny this.
The police union also reported that Loehmann asked Rice to raise his hands three times. An official statement from the Cleveland police released on Nov. 23 stated that the officers “advised him to raise his hands,” adding “the suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun. Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.”
Rice does reach toward his waistband right before he is shot. While it’s possible that the officer told Rice to raise his hands three times, Rice is shot within two seconds of the police car arriving on the scene. Follman told BuzzFeed News that Loehmann had shouted the demands from the car as they were driving toward Rice, but the car moves very quickly and pulls up within feet of Rice.
In a press conference on Nov. 24, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said that the video corroborated the officer’s initial description of the shooting, but that they had not yet taken “official statements” from the officers who shot Rice. The police department confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they have now received official statements from the officers, but did not release further details about whether Loehmann and Garmback’s stories had changed.
12. How did the local media cover Rice’s family?
Following the shooting, a series of articles published on Cleveland.com, the online arm of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group, focused on the criminal records of the family. The articles drew a negative response online from many online readers who found the depiction of Rice and his parents unnecessary and offensive.
The first critical article was a story that ran the day after the shooting that confirmed through a spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court that Rice did not have a record at the time of his death.
On the same day, Cleveland.com reported that Kucharski also defended Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, in a drug trafficking case in 2012.
Two days later, on Nov. 26, the site posted a story citing court records that show Rice’s father, Leonard Warner, has multiple convictions on domestic violence charges.
Critics found these details irrelevant to the shooting death investigation of Rice and called it character assassination — likening the stories to the criticism against 18-year-old Michael Brown after he was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9.
Chris Quinn, vice president of content for the Northeast Ohio Media Group, defended the organization’s coverage in an op-ed article in which he writes, “One way to stop police from killing any more 12-year-olds might be to understand the forces that lead children to undertake behavior that could put them in the sights of police guns.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s ombudsman Ted Diadiun echoed Quinn’s defense in an article titled “Blaming the media — social and otherwise — is foolish and fruitless.”
Kucharski told BuzzFeed News that he had no update or comment from the family on any of the reports following Rice’s death.
“They are just trying to bury and mourn their 12-year-old son right now,” Kucharski said.
14. What is happening with the investigation?
A deadly force investigation team comprised of homicide detectives, forensic scientists, and members of the Cleveland police department was initially tasked with investigating Rice’s death.
However on Jan. 2 the inquiry was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department to ensure transparency, Mayor Frank G. Jackson said in a statement.
“This decision to turn the investigation over was made to ensure that transparency and an extra layer of separation and impartiality were established,” Jackson said. “I believe that the best way to ensure accountability in a use of force investigation is to have it completed by an outside agency.”
At a press conference on Jan. 6, Samaria Rice said that she didn’t care who was investing the case; all she cares about is getting a conviction.
The city’s team was reviewing the officer’s technical tactics, as well as an overall review of the shooting. Investigators were looking into why the officers drove within feet of Rice, instead of parking at a distance and providing Rice the chance to surrender, a spokesperson for the Cleveland police department confirmed.
The police union defend the decision to approach Rice directly. The officers assumed Rice would run, Follman said. They drove onto the grass as a precautionary tactic. When Rice did not run, Garmback attempted to slow the vehicle but the car slid, Follman said.
Follman additionally defended the decision to shoot immediately, even though Rice was not directly threatening anybody in the park.
“There was nobody else around but we’re around, we’re people too,” Follman said. “The officers had to protect themselves.”
Another aspect of the incident that may be investigated is why the officers waited four minutes to begin administering first aid, which Cleveland police confirmed. Case Western Reserve School of Law Professor Lewis R. Katz told BuzzFeed News that the time that passed before the officers began helping Rice was unacceptable. But Follman and the police union don’t believe it’s unusual or wrong.
“Nothing is ‘normal’ for us,” said Follman. “It’s all a case-by-case basis. But there’s a lot to be done after an incident like this. You need to call into the radio for help and explain the situation, and make sure the suspect isn’t still a danger or has a weapon. It doesn’t seem like too long a time.”
Once the deadly force investigation team finishes compiling all evidence and taking statements from officers and witnesses, they will file all documents with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office which will determine whether to file any charges.
16. The lawyers for Samaria Rice do not want a Grand Jury. What are the chances for indictment?
In a press conference on Jan. 6, lawyers for Samaria Rice argued that there was enough probably cause to arrest the officers without a grand jury decision.
“Coming on the heels of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, all of America is looking to Cleveland,” said Attorney Benjamin L. Crump.
“Will that grand jury decision be similar to decisions in Brown and Garner? Will Tamir Rice’s death be swept under the rug? That is the real concern we have. The Rice family is committed to preventing that.”
Crump said that the video evidence shows that Rice “didn’t stand a chance.”
“In those situations, police are supposed to de-escalate the situation,” he said. “It seems like everything they did in that video escalated the situation and it would it have been handled differently if it was in another community.”
Whether or not the case faces a grand jury is now in the hands of prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, who will determine whether or not there is enough evidence to prove that a crime may have occurred. If he believes there is, the case will move on to the grand jury. If the prosecutor feels that the shooting of Rice is justified, the case will not face a grand jury.
Professor Katz described McGinty as a “straight shooter” who has wanted the prosecutor job his whole life.
McGinty was the prosecutor for a high-profile case in Cleveland last year in which 137 shots were fired on unarmed suspects in a police chase. Of the 13 officers who fired shots, one was indicted and five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase.
“Grand juries do what prosecutors want them to do,” said Katz. “And for McGinty, the Tamir Rice shooting will be the case that tells the tale.”
“I think you have a strong possibility for indictment here,” Katz told BuzzFeed News. “Everything happened so quickly that the jury should raise two questions: Was Loehmann really in danger and fearful for his life? And secondly, was that a reasonable fear?”
In Ohio it is legal to openly carry a gun in public. With a license, it is also legal to carry a concealed weapon.
According to Katz, had police arrived on the scene and seen Rice waving the gun around, the officers would be entitled to shoot. But he’s not sure if that law applies to children.
It is unclear what Loehmann or Garmback told their supervisors about what exactly happened and if they were in fear when they encountered Rice.
The Cleveland Police have not released the incident report or Loehmann and Garmback’s statements to the public. A police spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they have no intention of releasing that information at this time.
BuzzFeed News has filed an open records request for the release of the officers’ statements and the incident report.
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