A grand jury in Cleveland declined Monday to criminally charge two police officers who shot and killed Tamir Rice.
Rice, 12, was shot and killed in a public park in November 2014 after two Cleveland police officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, mistook his toy gun for a real weapon.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said at a press conference that he had, too, recommended that no charges be brought against the officers, saying that the "perfect storm of human error" that led to Rice's death did not raise to the level of criminality.
"The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy," McGinty said, "but it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime."
McGinty said that he spoke to Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, prior to the press conference. “It was a tough conversation. … She was broken up”
McGinty said that "enhanced video" of the incident showed that Rice had pulled his toy gun out of his waistband shortly before Officer Loehmann fatally shot him. The prosecutor also stressed that the 12-year-old looked "older" than his years. He also pointed out that a monument to fallen police officers is located in the same park where he died.
McGinty addressed the original video released after the incident that showed Rice being shot by Loehmann approximately two seconds after the officers arrived on the scene. He said the video does not tell the whole story. He said that “a recent enhancement of the video by the FBI” showed it is “indisputable that Tamir was drawing his gun from his waist” when he was shot.
Prosecutor Matt Meyer added during the press conference that based on the fact that the gun dropped to gazebo floor after Rice was shot that the “obvious conclusion that the gun was in Tamir’s hand when he was shot.”
Prosecutors with McGinty's office reminded reporters that police shootings have to be evaluated using the "reasonableness" clause of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, which means that the grand jury had to look at the incident from the perspective of a "reasonable" police officer at the scene.
The prosecutors also showed reporters a toy gun like the one Rice had on his person at the time of his death, pointing out that the two looked very much alike. They said the officers treated the call to the park as a possible active shooter situation because there were many children at the park.
Prosecutors from McGinty's office also played the 911 call that originally led police to dispatch a car to the park where Rice was playing. During the call, the person who filed the report told the dispatcher that the gun "was probably a fake" and that the person holding it was likely "a juvenile."
"Is he black or white?" the 911 dispatcher can be heard asking the caller.
The caller did not immediately answer.
"Black," she finally said.
While he noted that the officers involved in the shooting would have to live with their mistakes, McGinty placed direct blame on both the 911 dispatcher and the manufacturer of the toy gun for the tragedy.
McGinty noted that after receiving information from the 911 caller that the person in the park brandishing a gun appeared to be a juvenile and that the weapon “might not be real,” the dispatcher failed to relay these key details to Loehmann and Garmback.
On the toy gun, McGinty said that if it “screamed toy, this tragedy … might never have happened.”
During the press conference, prosecutors displayed Tamir Rice’s toy gun next to a real gun, saying “it’s impossible to say which one is real.”
Prosecutors said that Detective Dan Lentz, one of the first officers to arrive to the scene after the shooting, testified that he examined the gun closely, but until he saw the magazine and green BBs, he thought the gun was “1000% real.”
Prosecutors addressed several of the criticisms that have been raised against Loehmann and Garmback over the last year.
On why the officers didn’t immediately apply first aid to Rice after he was shot, Meyer said that, at the time, CDP did not train their officers to administer first aid to gun shot victims.
He added that Tamir Rice’s sister raced over to the gazebo approximately one minute after the shooting in a state of panic, causing Garmback to deal with his sister instead of Tamir. And, Meyer said, Loehmann rolled his ankle during the incident, so he was of limited assistance to Garmback.
On the question of whether or not Loehmann gave Rice an adequate chance to surrender, the prosectors maintain that he yelled to Rice to show his hands as the police cruiser skidded toward the gazebo. Meyer noted that the law only requires that an officer give these commands “when feasible.”
The prosecutors concluded their presentation by calling the case “a culmination of a tragic confluence of events.” They took no questions from the media.
The Tamir Rice family said it was "saddened and disappointed by this outcome—but not surprised," in a statement released through their attorney.
The family accused McGinty of "abusing and manipulating the grand-jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment."
McGinty hired experts to testify that the officers' conduct was reasonable and justified to exonerate the officers, a move the family said was "highly improper." He also allowed the officers to read prepared statements to the grand jury without any opportunity for cross-examination, the family added.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich called Tamir Rice's death "a heartbreaking tragedy" in a statement on Monday after the grand jury announcement, but called for calm as the city continues to improve its police work.
"I understand how this decision will leave many people asking themselves if justice was served," he said. "We all lose, however, if we give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us...When we are strong enough together to turn frustration into progress we take another step up the higher path."
As the criminal process came to a close on Monday, attention turned towards civil and administrative reviews.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Ohio said in a statement that it will continue its "independent review of this matter, assess all available materials and determine what actions are appropriate."
There are questions that still need answers, the NAACP said in a statement, such as why the dispatcher did not tell officers the gun appeared to be a toy, and why officers shot after just two seconds on the scene.
"Life and death decisions are made every day by police officers across the country, but the benefit of the doubt is often given in the preservation of white lives while the presumption of guilt, dangerousness and suspicion, time after time, is reserved for black lives," the NAACP said.
The organizations urged Cleveland residents to hold leaders accountable on the issue of police use of force as they went out to vote.
"More remains to be done in the streets, courts, police department, legislature, city hall and Congress," the group said. "The tragically lost life of this 12-year-old child demands that we do so."
Mayor Frank Jackson and Chief of Police Calvin Williams announced in a press conference Monday afternoon that a committee of city law enforcement and local members of the public will begin an immediate administrative review of the entire incident.
The critical incident committee, convened by the city and police department, will review all of the evidence of each step of the incident, including the 911 tape recorder and dispatcher, to determine if procedures and policies were followed.
“What I can promise the public is we will conduct our process in a legal, honest, transparent way and it will include due process,” said Mayor Jackson.
The mayor would not put a timeline on when the committee will hand over its review and recommendations to the police department and mayor’s office.
He said there are potential disciplinary actions for the officers or emergency responders if the committee review finds any policies or procedures were violated.
Chief of Police Williams said both officers will stay on restricted duty until the administrative process concludes.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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