On November 22, 2014, a twelve-year-old boy named Tamir Rice, playing with a toy pistol at a park, was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer. Rice was no Michael Brown; he hadn’t committed a crime, didn’t do anything to deserve being shot, and wasn’t posing a threat to anyone. His tragic death understandably generated massive public outrage. Last week’s announcement that the officer who killed him wouldn’t be charged was both expected and dreaded; expected because officers are rarely indicted for killing suspects, and dreaded because of the additional fuel it would pour onto the anti-police fire.
Rice’s death was undeniably tragic. But was it a crime?
The evidence says it wasn’t.
Why would police kill a twelve-year-old with a toy gun? The simple answer is that Rice didn’t appear to be a child, and his weapon looked real. Perhaps the most emotional responses to this shooting have been a result of Rice’s age and the fact that he just had a toy. But the officers involved had no way of knowing those things.
Boiled down to basics, here’s what happened:
- Someone called the police and reported a suspicious person with a gun;
- Police responded and found the suspect;
- The suspect reached for what looked like a real weapon in his waistband;
- One of the responding officers believed his life was in imminent danger;
- The officer shot and killed the suspect.
That’s why the officers weren’t indicted. They answered a call, thought their lives were in danger, and one officer used deadly force. If a police officer is lawfully performing his duties and reasonably believes he’s in imminent danger of being killed by a suspect, he’s justified in using deadly force to protect himself.
Here’s what I know about the shooting:
The 911 call:
The incident began with a 911 call from a man drinking beer at Cleveland’s Cudell Commons Park. The caller reported a black male was pulling a gun from his pants, “pointing it at everybody”, and “scaring the shit out of people”. Early in the call, he reported “it’s probably fake”, and he repeated “it’s probably fake” thirty seconds later. Near the end of the two-minute call he said, “he’s probably a juvenile.” Just before getting off the phone he said, “I don’t know if it’s real or not.”
Two officers were dispatched to investigate. They were NOT told the weapon might be fake, or that the suspect might be a juvenile. They were only told to investigate “a black male sitting on a swing pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people.”
Much blame has been laid at the dispatcher’s feet for not telling the officers the gun might be fake and that Rice might be a juvenile. But in Cleveland, as in many large police departments, dispatchers don’t answer 911 calls. “Call takers” answer those calls, record the information and forward it to police, fire or EMS dispatch. Call takers often make mistakes or miss important facts (I’ve been dispatched to many calls with incomplete or incorrect information, and have had a couple of call slips I literally couldn’t understand).
Listen to the 911 call embedded in the article I linked above; the call taker didn’t press the caller for information about the gun, didn’t ask about the suspect’s demeanor, didn’t follow up on the “he might be a juvenile” and “it’s probably fake” comments and didn’t even ask the caller’s name. She recorded the bare minimum, “black male on a swing pulling a gun from his pants and pointing it at people”, and sent that to dispatch. And that’s all the officers knew when they arrived.
Tamir Rice’s Size:
I knew Rice was twelve from the beginning but didn’t learn until a few days ago that he was 5’7″ and 195 pounds. I’m in my 40’s, also 5’7”, and weigh substantially less than 195 pounds. 5’7” and 195 isn’t huge, but definitely isn’t the height and weight you’d expect from a twelve-year-old.
The 911 caller said the male with the gun might be a juvenile, but later told investigators he thought the male was around twenty because he was a “big boy”. Incessant media reports remind everyone Rice was a child, but rarely say he was built like an adult. I doubt the officers involved saw Rice and thought, “that’s a child.”
Rice was carrying a very realistic-looking Airsoft 1911 .45 replica. The pistol originally had an orange tip, which had been removed. People with extensive experience around weapons would identify it as fake in a sterile environment, but under stress and movement, it’s likely they wouldn’t spot the differences.I’ve been shooting and collecting guns for over thirty years, and was a weapons repairman and marksmanship coach in the Marine Corps. I’ve fired thousands upon thousands of rounds from many weapons in the Marines and Army, and have carried a gun almost every day as a cop for over twenty years. And I can’t say I would have immediately recognized Rice’s gun as a toy that day, under those conditions.
The Officers Involved:
Two officers in one patrol car were dispatched to investigate. The driver was a six-year veteran named Frank Garmback. His partner, Timothy Loehmann, was a probationary officer with less than one year on Cleveland PD. In 2012 Loehmann worked for the Independence, Ohio Police Department for less than six months. He resigned from IPD in December 2012 for “personal reasons”, but IPD considered him unfit to be a police officer and was about to fire him (see the last few pages of the document). Cleveland PD hired him in December 2013.
While Loehmann had displayed emotional problems and “dismal weapons handling skills” during training at IPD two years earlier, his actions during the Rice shooting showed neither. Whatever his problems before, his actions that day were reasonable and legal if he believed his life was in danger.
The two officers drove down a road into a dead end next to the park, pulled over the curb onto the grass, and drove toward a gazebo where Rice was sitting alone. Rice stood as the police car approached and walked toward the car’s path. Garmback, the driver, stopped the car within a few feet of the gazebo. He stopped with the passenger side facing Rice, which put Loehmann in what he believed was an immediate danger. Rice, only a few feet from the police car, raised his jacket and reached to the pistol on the right side of his waistband.The Shooting:
Approximately two seconds passed between the moment the car stopped and the moment Officer Loehmann shot Rice.
Loehmann, the rookie officer, bailed from the car and fired two shots from no more than seven feet away. One round hit Rice in the lower torso. Rice fell. Loehmann backpedaled, tripped and fell, jumped back up and scrambled to the driver’s side of the car for cover. The driver also bailed out and took cover. Both officers then covered Rice with their weapons while calling for backup. Their actions immediately after the shooting are significant because they show that the officers believed they were facing a real, not fake, pistol.
Initially, Cleveland police claimed Rice had been sitting with a group and that the officers had seen him pick up the gun from the table and put it in his pants. However, surveillance video released later refuted that. The video shows nobody else nearby and doesn’t show the gun at all. The police also claimed an officer ordered Rice to show his hands three times before firing. That’s actually plausible.
People think of verbal commands as slow and clear orders (just like on TV), but in real life, especially if the officer believes his life is in danger, they’re likely to be rapidly blurted and probably not understood. Officer Loehmann couldn’t have calmly said “Put your hands up, sir” three times in two seconds, but he could have shouted “Hands up hands up hands up!” as he drew his weapon (I just timed myself and did it in 1.28 seconds).
Immediately after the shooting, Officer Garmback notified dispatch that shots had been fired and called for EMS. He also said “Step it up”, which is copspeak for “Hurry the hell up because something really bad just happened”. Additional officers arrived, and according to the police report, they all believed Rice to be an adult and the gun to be real.
Neither Garmback nor Loehmann administered first aid. That sounds negligent but probably wasn’t. Police traditionally aren’t trained to perform trauma care, and our response when someone needs medical care is to call for an ambulance. Police departments are finally starting to train for trauma care and issue bandages and tourniquets, but not long ago many police administrators discouraged officers from attempting first aid because they thought it would open the agency to liability. In the Rice case, the officers apparently fell back on the old “hold the scene and call an ambulance” first aid method.
According to the autopsy, Rice “suffered a single gunshot into the left side of his abdomen, near his navel. The bullet traveled through his intestines and lodged into the right side of his pelvis, causing hemorrhaging”. With internal injuries that severe, the officers probably couldn’t have rendered effective aid anyway. Rice had a heartbeat so chest compressions wouldn’t have been required. If he was breathing (I don’t know if he was) mouth-to-mouth wasn’t necessary. For internal bleeding a tourniquet would be useless and pressure bandage of only limited worth. Without additional training and equipment, the officers couldn’t do much more than call for an ambulance.
For several minutes after the shooting the officers covered Rice with their weapons, called for EMS, and stopped Rice’s sister from rushing to his side (we have to keep bystanders away from a crime scene, no matter who the bystanders are or how the victim was shot). A federal agent who happened to be nearby heard the shots fired call, arrived approximately four minutes later and gave some type of medical care. An ambulance arrived and transported Rice to a trauma center, where he died nine hours later.
The officers can be criticized for not administering mouth to mouth if Rice wasn’t breathing. They had perhaps one free minute where they could have begun a medical assessment; the results of that assessment would undoubtedly have been “We need an ambulance.” But police duties, not medical, were their priority. By calling an ambulance they provided the minimum medical care required; they could have done better, and as police officers, we need to start doing more than just call for help.“But Ohio is an Open Carry state!”
Some people have claimed the police had no authority to shoot because a pistol can be carried openly in Ohio. That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Open Carry has literally nothing to do with this incident, and that argument is being made by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Open Carry doesn’t mean you can walk down the street with a pistol in your hands, and it doesn’t mean you can walk around a park pointing a pistol at people. Publicly carrying a pistol in a combat ready hold in any OC state will get the police called on you, will get you arrested, and will likely get you shot.
Why did the officers pull up so close if they thought Rice was armed?
My gut reaction from watching the video is that they didn’t realize Rice was their suspect until they were right on top of him. That would explain why the driver approached so closely and why the passenger seemed to have fired almost out of panic. It’s not unusual for officers to unexpectedly encounter suspects; anyone who works the street for any length of time will have some unpleasant surprises. But Cleveland PD initially claimed the officers saw Rice pick up the gun from the table and put it in his pants. If they truly did see that, since it isn’t on video it had to have happened long before the police car reached the gazebo; the surveillance video shows Rice without the gun on the table for sixteen seconds before we see the police car.
If the officers had sixteen seconds advance notice, there would be no tactical reason for them to drive that close. And it would just be a stupid move. The smart thing to do would have been to stop some distance away, draw, take cover and give verbal commands. The driver’s decision to get that close and stop right next to Rice forced the passenger to make a snap shoot/don’t shoot decision.
Officer Loehmann chose to shoot, and I can’t fault him for that. But I do blame his partner for putting him in a position that almost demanded that he shoot. Driving that close was like a cop intentionally standing in front of a suspect’s car, then shooting because “he was coming right at me”. It can be technically legal for the officer to shoot, but he should never have put himself in that situation, to begin with. Likewise, the Rice shooting could have been avoided if the officers had kept their distance.
If Officer Loehmann was wrong, why wasn’t he charged?
Because we put people in prison for committing crimes, not for being wrong. There’s a difference. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to kill an innocent person yet still not commit a crime.
In March 2014, a Texas woman killed a man she thought was breaking into her home. She was home alone, it was late, someone tried to force her door open, she reasonably believed her life was in danger, and she fired through her door. The man turned out to be her firefighter neighbor, who came home drunk and tried to get into the wrong house. The woman killed an innocent man and was objectively wrong about him being a threat. But she wasn’t criminally wrong and wasn’t charged.
In February 2014, a small-time marijuana dealer killed a Texas police officer serving a search warrant on his house. The dealer admitted he killed the officer. He wasn’t charged, because a Grand Jury decided he reasonably could have thought he was being robbed, not raided, and that he reasonably acted to defend himself and his girlfriend.
Guilt isn’t decided by what we find out after the fact, it’s decided by what the killer reasonably perceived before they pulled the trigger. And as the two cases above show, a Grand Jury’s job is NOT to indict no matter what; it’s to decide whether or not the facts of a case justify a criminal charge. In those cases, and in the Rice shooting, the Grand Juries correctly determined no crime had been committed.
Officer Loehmann’s decision has to be evaluated based on the facts as they appeared to him, not as they appear a year later to an uninvolved person who knows all the facts. Loehmann didn’t know Rice was a child, didn’t know the gun was a toy, and was put nearly knife-fighting distance from someone he thought was drawing a gun on him. Anyone can look at the objective reality, which we know now, that Rice was no threat. But Loehmann didn’t know that, and couldn’t have known.
In the end…
Some police shootings should rightly be celebrated, like Austin PD’s one-shot kill of an anti-government extremist. Some police shootings are controversial but 100% justified, like the killing of Michael Brown. Some police shootings are blatant crimes, like the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina. And some police shootings, like this one, are ugly, tragic, unnecessary and completely suck, but are still legal. There is no “good guy” in this shooting, and I’m sure Officer Loehmann isn’t at home celebrating his decision. After this, I’d be surprised if he ever puts on a badge again.
The Tamir Rice shooting showed a serious flaw within the 911 reporting system, exposed what may have been false reporting from someone in Cleveland PD (not necessarily the officers involved), and may have proven one officer engaged in horrible tactics. It may have shown that the officers had time to medically assess Rice, but chose not to. Those are all bad things.
But it did not show that an officer committed murder, or that he was wrong to believe his life was in danger. That’s why the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict was correct, no matter how much it sucks.
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Great article. Thank you for sharing the facts. Media normally doesn’t give us the full picture and details.
Again the video speaks for itself, and represent the worst of a sound human reaction by a sworn public official; he was given some power which he couldn’t handle, causing a bonified overreaction. Based on that, a innocent life was taken; if we judged him on his ability to be competent in his work that day, he fails misurabily, and we can’t have that in law enforcement. Is he guilty of murder? Of course not, he reacted out of something he created, which was totatlly incompetent and for that he is guilty as hell! But outlining that point is not what I was trying to articulate in my message; my goal was to find a way of taking the mistakes made here and trying to formulate a way of using them as training for future officers, to avoid this from happening again. So let’s stop this petty bashing and get back to the main cause here, saving innocent lives, no matter what the conditions are!
And for you Steve, I love that you were caught in my little literature word play, I do this on purpose as a blog writer to see if readers are paying real attention to the details I’m expressing in my writing, of if they are just looking to pick apart something totally unrelated. Unfortunantly you failed my deception test misurabily, because you missed my point on saving innocent lives, and fell into the pitfall my trap! Yes you wreaked, o’excuse me “wrecked.” “The Power of Words,” I love it!
Dennis that wasn’t a pun. You just blew your wad trying to make sure you’re smarter than a knuckle dragging cop. And failed at that. If it was it wasn’t funny. Or good. Or even close to “wrecked.”
Anyways. Your opinion doesn’t matter regardless. Cops got cleared by people with more facts than you.
Very well put. Thank you.
Dennis do you have a problem with reading comprehension? The rec center is about 20 yards from the gazebo. What looks like a road in the front of the video is the parking lot of the Cudell rec center.
And how in the heck did the reck center (which you can’t spell), play a part in what happened, where in the heck was the emergency, in that video; in the mind of those Police Officers and also lost biased minded you!!!
Dennis, you are definitely in need of stepping back and relooking at the entire situation instead of coming here with your opinion which is unsupported by the facts. 1) Rec as in Recreation not reck which YOU couldn’t spell. And 2) the Emergency is an armed suspect in a room full of child hostages. it seems the biased minded one is yourself.
You can say what you want, the video speaks for itself; you can put in your mind what you want, but you cannot deny the visual truth, the video has no opinion and tells the truth, something the officers didn’t! Accept it and move on, everything else here is a cop-out! Oh by the way, the pun reck is for how recked his opinion was!
Exactly the point, thank you!
Coming from a law enforcement back ground, I can’t say this was a good shooting. The officers should not have flown right up on the kid/man. I would have moved in slower took time to look thing over and go from there.
So if you have a possible armed suspect you would let him flee into a rec center without trying to head him off?
Head off what, where was the emergency? It was in a bunch of mis-guided people in the 911 call operations and police department of that city! Mistakes were made all over the place and instead of owning up, people want to cover their asses. And biased people like you want to try to make sense out of mistakes!
Sure, in an ideal world. But if you are determining whether it is a ‘good shooting’ or not you don’t get to set the parameters. You are that cop- the one who fired- and you are now a few feet away from an armed subject who is drawing a firearm. THAT is the scenario. Your partner may have screwed the pooch by driving so close, but the decision to shoot isn’t being made by him.
Kinda shows why they did what they did. Also it was a Saturday afternoon and that rec center was packed with kids.
What kids were in this video when the shooting took place; the ghost? Are you seeing something we don’t? Are you serious???
If you read the officers statements that was released to the grand jury, they thought he was gonna run and they pulled up to block him from running into the rec center . Unfortunately he changed his coarse and started walking towards them, when the driver realized this he hit the brakes and they slid to a stop next to Rice. The distance the driver started braking was estimated at 40 to 70 feet from where they stopped.
I had not seen those statements. Interesting. Thanks for the info.
I don’t know what you think your seeing, but the police car didn’t slide very much anywhere, they pulled up like super cops and the rookie cop opened his door and shot. What the cops said is unsubstantial, first of all they lied, second the video we se has been slowed down and even with that it still looks like the shooting was in real time and real fast. So let’s not talk about what the officers taught he was going to do, they messed up badly. The kid had no time to react to anything! So let’s keep this real. Thank you, but we can’t use plausibly use your theory!
When did they lie? Who made the statement? Because some anonymous source makes a statement that turned out not to be true does not mean it came from them.
Do you have a reading comprehension problem , in this article it says, “Initially, Cleveland police claimed Rice had been sitting with a group and that the officers had seen him pick up the gun from the table and put it in his pants. However, surveillance video released later refuted that. The video shows nobody else nearby, and doesn’t show the gun at all. The police also claimed an officer ordered Rice to show his hands three times before firing. “
What group of people? Where do you think that department obtained that information from? From the lying officers who shot, making the whole police department liars, until oh, there’s a video!
Stop being on the side of a cover up, you want to be right, but you really can’t read, or else you wouldn’t make such bias statements . Everything in my statements are from facts presented here. You don’t like me because of that? Really?
Plausibly use your theory? Are you smoking crack? Read their statements.
He wasn’t going to run nowhere , you as the cops were reaching for excuses to cover up stupidly and dumbfounded caused death; maybe not murder, but reckless brain dead disregard for life surely!!!
Police officers have to be held to a higher accountability for their actions, when firing their weapons, especially when they put themselves in a position where they could have totally avoided having to fire that weapon in the first place!
In this case obviously riding up on the grass as they did was a mistake, given the fact they had a call for someone parading around pulling out a weapon and threatening people. How stupid could the police be to make themselves so obvious in their approach towards Tamir? Their approach, towards the benches, on the grass, obviously indicates they believed they had their subject. Why would they do that if they thought Tamir was a real criminal or was going to shoot, he could have released a barrage of shoots off at the offices as the officers approached, even before they exited their vehicle.
The fact they were so close to Tamir, is beyond reasonable police actions and good sound police tactics, it also goes beyond the way any reasonable persons would handle a situation like that. That Gun-Ho attitude that some police officers carry cost Tamir his life. So once they put themselves in this position, (Deadly Force) the gun is a bail out for them!
So now they are on this stupid O’I didn’t know, I thought my life is in danger defense, which any jury or reasonable person would say well we can’t blame him because he or she felt her life was in danger. Remember if Tamir had an actual real gun, we could be talking about the possible deaths of the officers as well as Tamir’s!
The bottom line is, we must accept the jury’s decision, but we must also accept the fallout for all the mistakes made from the dispatching of the officers, enabling their Gun-Ho approach to Tamir. This is not the first time police officers have made some blatant errors in their duties (some officers have actually murdered people), causing them to take innocent lives, it has happened plenty of times before and will continue to happen frequently unless they start to learn from their errors and invoke new policies along with procedures after the investigations into the shootings which will help to make sure they don’t happen again!
They were not backed into a hole or in a position where they had to worry about their lives before they approached Tamir, the officers told a story about what happened before the shooting to cover their behinds that didn’t match the video, (he was sitting with a group of people and picked up the gun and put it in his pants).
They know they did wrong! So they invent lies to cover mistakes instead of admitting them!
The superior officer in this case should have been the one to first approach, he might not have been so quick to shoot, the rookie officer should not have even been on the force given his previous record. Their approach to Tamir was obviously wrong, so close, up on the grass in front of Tamir, and the biggest fault goes to the dispatching segment of that police department (public or departmental). I hope they now realize how important it is to revel all the substantial facts from the 911 caller to the officers dispatched on a call!
In conclusion, after every questionable shooting in any of our police departments, there should be a review to determine the right or wrong actions of all involved in the process. Those findings should be shared amongst all police departments, so they can incorporate them into new procedures for their officers in training, so the same thing doesn’t happen again! Any reasonably sound in mind person would not pull a gun on a police officer, I know I wouldn’t, but Tamir was a kid having some stupid and silly fun. Do you think he would have stayed in the park if his gun was real? He was there with his sister, playing with his toy! I believe the officer saw the gun which Tamir never actually pulled out but he panicked and shot him! You can tell that because it happenend so fast, Tamir didn’t make any threatening motions in the video! It does boil down to perception, but you must be able to recognize, address, and reason through a situation so you take appropriate actions to bring the situation under control while eliminating any threats to all life!
I hope my comments can be passed along to the appropriate destinations, and be seriously considered to halt the unnecessary taking of lives!!!
Except the one you are blaming for being gung-ho is, presumably, the cop driving. He was NOT the one who fired. And, honestly, that mistake- of driving too close to an event- is one I see almost every cop do at some point until they learn first-hand. It’s the nature of adrenaline in humans.
What, in your opinion, *should* be the punishment for officers who recklessly put themselves in a position that results in someone’s death? How can we communicate that process and punishment to the public so they don’t feel that the officers and department are getting a free pass?
Given the (rightful) benefit of the doubt we give officers in self defense situations, what kind of additional responsibility do they have to not put themselves into bad situations?
I really have to wonder who hears “this guy has a gun” and then drives to within near contact distance of him before trying to give commands. The kid had no time to response to their commands, and they had no time to do anything *but* shoot in response to his motion. Just a horrible idea.
Yeesh. That’s a hard question. Police work is inherently risky; we don’t want to start punishing officers for taking what they perceive as reasonable risks in an already dangerous situation. Put enough cops in jail for answering calls, we’ll just quit answering calls.
If we had evidence the officers intentionally did something stupid that put them in a situation that almost forced a shooting, yeah, that deserves some kind of punishment. Not sure what kind though.
I don’t know the answer to your question. Thanks for asking it, though. Hopefully we’ll get some informed opinions.
If a non-LEO intentionally does something stupid that puts them in a situation where they kill someone, it generally results in at least a manslaughter charge.
I think a lot of the anger we’re currently seeing is because of (what appears to be) a double standard, in which mistakes made by officers are not treated the same as mistakes made by regular folk.
Granted, the job is inherently dangerous, but that’s not exactly news to somebody thinking about becoming an officer. Does that willingness to take on a “more dangerous” job (doesn’t even crack the top 10 for dangerous jobs) grant the officer more leeway for mistakes? The case might even be made that since officers deal with these dangerous situations on a more regular basis, that they should be better at them. I now work in the oil/gas industry (#7 of top 10 most dangerous jobs). Daily (thankfully still working), I am in a pretty dangerous situation. I’ve seen folks killed, and lots of severe injuries and dismemberment. Yet if I intentionally do something stupid, that causes a death, I’ll very likely be charged. I’m not granted leeway for any stupid actions I intentionally take. That’s where I think the disconnect and anger is coming from.
I agree he doesn’t belong in jail. Should he be fired? I mean, “I did something dumb/irresponsible with my power and someone died” should be somewhere in that vicinity, right?
I don’t want cops thinking “will I be sued” when someone draws on them, either. I wouldn’t mind them pondering it it before they charge blindly into a “man might have a gun” situation.
But if you sue the department… well, none of the people making the decisions have to pay for it. I mean, it’s a headache for them – reduced budget, probably have to cut back on something “nonessential” like training from the way I hear most officers tell it.
And even if he does get an internal investigation and firing… most people have no clue about how that process works, and just think it’s paid vacation.
I dunno what the answer is… but it’s got to be something that sounds like justice to most people, somehow, or you get more and more people who have never personally had a bad experience with cops thinking that every officer is out to shoot them :-/
Thanks for the response.
“If we had evidence the officers intentionally did something stupid that put them in a situation that almost forced a shooting, yeah, that deserves some kind of punishment.”
Isn’t driving up to literally arm’s reach of a suspect assumed to be armed, pretty damn stupid, if not blatantly reckless? Wouldn’t a far better tactic have been to stop at a distance, say 30-50 yards, and give some time to obey voice/P.A. instructions?
The question is whether that was their intent. And even then, should you charge the passenger because the driver put him in a bad tactical position?
Good write up, very informative about police procedures.
The two Cleveland officers did not perform any medical care, besides what you stated, was that they were not equipped to. Not until recently have CPD begun carrying medical equipment in their vehicles.
Thank you. You may already read it but Peter Moskos (http://www.copinthehood.com/2014/11/lets-monday-morning-quarterback.html) had almost the same take. Significantly more blame on the driver and parents.