Prosecutor in Tamir Rice Case Favors Killers’ Version of Events, Says Victim’s Family
Leaks to the media from the secret proceedings of a grand jury are not unheard of, and reformers have been calling for grand jury testimony to be more open to public scrutiny. Still, there’s something a little off about the information that’s been trickling out of the grand jury now impaneled to consider charges against the Cleveland police officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice back in November 2014.
First there was the sheriff’s report that said one of the men who arrived at the scene saw Rice reach for something that looked like a pistol (it wasn’t). Then there were the statements from police that Rice had ignored warnings to show his hands. In October, we learned that experts called by prosecutors—who, we remind readers, are supposedly there to support the view that a crime was committed and that an indictment is justified—told the grand jury they believed one of the officers had behaved reasonably in concluding Rice posed a threat to his life.
All this would seem to favor the police version of events. But it didn’t come from the defense. It came from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, the person whose job performance is judged in part on how many killers of children he sends to jail.
Here’s what we know about the Tamir Rice case. A call to 911 said that a black male, “probably a juvenile,” was at a park in Cleveland waving something that looked like a gun at people. The caller said the gun was “probably a fake” but that the probably-a-juvenile black male was kind of freaking people out nevertheless. The information about the age of the wielder of the object and the information the object was probably fake, which it turned out to be, was never relayed to officers who arrived on the scene.
When Timothy Loehmann, a rookie, and his partner, Frank Garmback, drove up to the park, they found a 12-year-old boy with his hand either in his jacket pocket or moving toward his waistband, depending on whether you believe the family’s lawyers or the experts hired by the prosecutor—who, incidentally, is supposed to be on the side of the family, according to the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association website. Police either yelled a warning through the police cruiser’s open windows or through closed windows, which might explain why the boy was walking toward them, or didn’t issue any warning at all, which is what witnesses interviewed for the same sheriff’s report maintained. In any case, Loehmann’s door opened while the car was still moving and Rice’s arm and shoulder were moving upward. He fired almost immediately, and Rice crumpled to the ground, mortally wounded. Neither officer attempted to seek medical attention for the boy.
Over the past several months, McGinty has been releasing to the public information that has been presented to the grand jury. But although McGinty’s job is to find crimes that have been committed and convict those who commit them, much of the information he has released would leave one to believe Loehmann acted reasonably. “We’ve never seen a prosecutor try so hard to lose a case,” Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer for Rice’s mother, Samaria, told The New York Times.
McGinty seemed to indicate in November that he thinks Samaria Rice and her relatives “have their own economic motives.” (He later walked back the comment, saying he wasn’t talking about Rice.) This and other statements prompted Rice’s lawyers to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, which it is now considering.
Prosecutors and victims’ families are supposed to be allies; the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association’s website says, “Ohio’s county prosecuting attorneys are primarily ministers of justice and the voice for victims.” But prosecutors have another ally in virtually all their cases: police. Without police cooperation, a prosecutor is going to have a hard time winning convictions—and hence a hard time getting reelected or reappointed. Local advocates and Rice’s lawyers are contending that McGinty has so far chosen to release grand jury evidence based on how well it exonerates police in the Rice case of any wrongdoing.
McGinty’s prosecution of Michael Brelo, a Cleveland police officer who was among those who fired 127 bullets at a car whose occupants were unarmed, resulted in acquittal in May.