CLEVELAND, OH — A pre-teen boy was killed by police as he played alone in a park with a toy gun. Video of the shooting draws questions about the prudence of the aggressive police response.
The fatality occurred on November 22, 2014 in the unoccupied picnic area outside Cleveland’s Cudell Recreation Center. Tamir Rice, age 12, was hanging out near the picnic tables, playing with a plastic pistol.
A witness saw the boy and called the government to intervene. While the age and identity of the suspect was not immediately known, the 9-1-1 said twice that it might be a juvenile and that the gun was “probably fake.”
Official channels allege that the caller’s doubts were not relayed to the responding officers of the Cleveland Police Department. The cops were simply dispatched to investigate a report of an armed individual in the park.
The undisputed facts are as follows: Two CPD officers arrived at the scene: Frank Gramback, 46, and Timothy Loehmann, 26. During the confrontation, rookie Officer Loehmann drew his weapon and fired twice, fatally wounding Rice.
Deputy Chief Ed Tomba claimed that Rice drew the (fake) pistol from his waistband after being told to raise his hands. He confirmed that the pistol was a replica — a black Airsoft pistol used to shoot plastic BBs — but that was only discovered after the shooting. The chief said the boy did not make any verbal threats and the gun was never pointed at officers.
If we were to take the police at their word, the shooting would have the appearance of an tragedy, not a crime. The police were investigating a legitimate call of a suspect drawing a gun in a park. The replica gun would be indistinguishable from a distance and similar enough to create a real perception of life-threatening danger. The suspect’s age, while tragic, was unknown and not relevant.
However, release of a park surveillance video adds some additional perspective on the police tactics used during the fatal shooting:
The video shows that CPD hastily drove its cruiser through the grass, coming within a few feet of the supposed armed threat. Officer Loehmann — the passenger — hopped out and shot the suspect nearly as soon as the vehicle came to a complete stop. Rice could be seen collapsing from gunshots only three seconds after the cruiser had entered the frame of the camera.
Police claimed to have issued verbal commands three (3) times to Rice, but the video shows that there would be virtually no time for any such dialogue — let alone enough time for the boy to comprehend or comply with instructions.
“It is our belief that this situation could have been avoided and that Tamir should still be here with us,” said the Rice family in a statement. “The video shows one thing distinctly: the police officers reacted quickly.”
The video shows that the tactics employed by police virtually guaranteed that a shooting would take place. We may grant that officers could have been encountering a dangerous criminal, but the approach was one of escalation, not deescalation. It was an act of bravado, not finesse. Officers rushed the suspect and got the violence they sought. They left little room for the possibility that the “threat” might not have been real.
Tamir Rice was not in possession of an illegal item. He was not accused of breaking a law. He was unlikely to have understood that his presence in the park was perceived as a threat at all. He was an innocent kid that unfortunately has been added to the death toll caused by America’s penchant for aggressive, irresponsible policing.
It is granted that police can reasonably confuse fake weapons during confrontations occurring in real-time. But to intentionally roll in to bad-breath range on a potentially armed suspect is tactically dangerous to both the officers and the unidentified individual. Virtually anything movement the suspect makes at that point can be used as a legal justification for killing him. It mimics the same deadly logic used by police when they break into bedrooms in the middle of the night and then “fear for their lives” when the homeowners make a movement without permission. The police tactics unnecessarily facilitate deadly confrontations and lead to innocent deaths.
AFTER THE SHOOTING
Moments after the shooting, Tamir Rice’s 14-year-old sister came running to the park in tears when she saw her brother dying next to the picnic tables. Officer Frank Gramback forcefully leveled her to the ground. She was handcuffed and led off into a police cruiser. Meanwhile, approximately ten feet away, Tamir lay on the ground bleeding out for several more minutes until someone else showed up from off-scene to administer first aid.
“This has to be the cruelest thing I’ve ever seen,” said attorney Walter Madison to Cleveland.com.
This was only noticed after extended footage of the aftermath of the scene was released. Tamir’s sister appears at 1:43 in the footage below.
“No one thinks that it’s appropriate to try to save him,” Madison said. “The first person who does is not affiliated with the Cleveland police department. This is the level of service that makes people very upset and distrustful of law enforcement.”
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Officers Frank Gramback and Timothy Loehmann have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. While it has not officially been declared a justified shooting, statements from the mayor and CPD indicate a strong bias towards favoring the use of force.
Records on the two officers show that they each have a bit of history of questionable behavior on the job. The shooter, Timothy Loehmann, was fired from the Independence (Ohio) Police Department in 2010 after Deputy Chief Jim Polak called his the officer “unfit for duty” and his performance “dismal.” Officer Loehmann had a “dangerous loss of composure during live range training” and showed signs of severe emotional instability.
Also in 2010, Officer Frank Gramback was involved in an incident involving excessive force which resulted in a $100,000 payout after a woman was mistakenly “rushed and placed her in a chokehold, tackled her to the ground,” and subjected to blows by Gramback and another officer.
A grand jury is expected to review the evidence and decide if any charges will be brought against the officer(s).