Nearly a year after Cleveland police officers gunned down 12-year-old Tamir Rice for playing with a toy gun, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor released two independent reports finding the shooting was “objectively reasonable.” The reports are just the latest in a string of decisions by Prosecutor Timothy McGinty that have prolonged the investigation and hindered the case.
Upon receiving the report, the Rice family “now believes that the prosecutor’s office has been on an 11-month quest to avoid providing that accountability,” family attorney Subodh Chandra said in a Facebook statement. “Who will speak for Tamir before the grand jury? Not the prosecutor, apparently.”
Tamir Rice’s family has waited for a decision to move forward with the case for almost a full year, while other high profile police shootings around the country have reached decisions over indictments in a matter of days or weeks. McGinty has not yet presented the sheriff’s investigation to the grand jury, which has been in his hands since June. With the release of the most recent report, McGinty has suggested it could take well over a year to decide to indict the officers, let alone to begin to try the case.
With each delay in the process, the chances for indictment and successful prosecution of the officers grow slimmer. Witnesses move away, memories fade, and evidence tends to disappear.
Here’s a timeline of the actions that have delayed a decision on whether or not to charge the officers who killed Rice over the past year:
November 22, 2014
Tamir Rice is shot by two officers responding to a 911 call. Though the 911 caller said the child’s gun was “probably a fake,” the dispatcher failed to pass on that information. Video showed Rice wandering around with an airsoft pellet gun before officers got out of the car and shot Rice almost immediately. The video also showed that instead of administering first aid to the dying 12-year-old, police tackled Rice’s 14-year-old sister and handcuffed her.
Two days after shooting: Prosecutor defers to a grand jury
Rather than simply bring charges against Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, as is in his power, McGinty is leaving the officers’ fate in the hands of a grand jury. Many prosecutors handling similar allegations of police brutality have deferred to grand juries as a way to avoid prosecuting officers; grand juries often decline to indict officers accused of misconduct, and it’s even rarer for a prosecutor to win a conviction.
5 months after shooting: Sheriff’s investigation still ongoing
The case was handed over from the Cleveland police to the Cuyahoga County sheriff’s office, which spent months investigating the incident. Sheriff Cliff Pinkney declined to set a deadline to complete the investigation. “While it would be politically expedient to impose an arbitrary deadline, for the sake of the integrity of this investigation, I am not willing to do that,” the sheriff said. “Of course that does not mean that this investigation should drag out beyond what is reasonable.” Departmental policy stipulated that investigations be turned over to the prosecutor after 90 days, or by the end of February. But the investigation was still stalled in May. Mother Jones discovered that Loehmann and Garmback had refused to be interviewed despite multiple attempts.
As he waited for the investigation to be handed off to his office, McGinty was coming off a failed prosecution of a police officer who fired 49 shots at two unarmed people after a high-speed car chase that ultimately involved 59 police vehicles. McGinty reportedly fought for the indictment and conviction of the officer, antagonizing the police union. But a judge acquitted the officer, spurring massive protests in Cleveland.
6 months after shooting: Ignores judge’s finding of probable cause
McGinty decided to set aside a municipal court judge’s recommendation to charge the officers. The judge found that there was probable cause to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty, and to charge Garmback with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. Frustrated by the prosecutor’s delay, clergy members and community leaders used a provision of Ohio law to bypass McGinty and ask the judge to weigh in. McGinty maintained that he would leave it up to the grand jury.
6 months after shooting: Asks sheriff to make the call
WKYC reported in June that McGinty tried to pressure the sheriff’s department into sending him a recommendation of whether or not the officers should be charged. The sheriff turned over a 224-page investigation of the incident to the prosecutor, but refused to include a finding, which would have given McGinty some cover in his decision. “One hundred percent, unequivocally, we do not recommend, advise, offer guidance to the prosecutor’s office when it comes to charges in this case,” Philip Angelo, special assistant to the sheriff, told the New York Times in June. McGinty has flatly denied that he asked for guidance from the sheriff. Even without a recommendation of charges, the sheriff’s department report found that Loehmann shot Rice within two seconds of exiting his car, and that witnesses did not hear officers give Rice verbal commands before the shooting.
8 months after shooting: Dismisses petitions asking for indictment
Rice’s family delivered a petition with 60,000 signatures to McGinty’s office in July, demanding that he stop stalling on an indictment. “We’re here eight months later and there’s still no justice so him [McGinty] dragging his feet is an understatement,” Rice’s cousin told WKYC.
11 months after shooting: Releases report with biased experts
The reports released quietly on Saturday are not quite as neutral as McGinty has billed them. The two independent experts are a prosecutor, S. Lamar Sims, and a former FBI agent-turned-professor, Kim Crawford. The family’s attorney called them “hired guns” who have a record of sympathizing with police. The Guardian reports that two months before he was asked to investigate, Sims went on television to explain why the shooting of the 12-year-old boy may be justified. “The community may react to facts learned later, for example, looking round the nation, say you have a 12- or 13-year-old boy, with a toy gun. We learn that later,” he said. “The question is, what did the officer know at the time, what should a reasonable police officer have known at the time when he or she took the steps that led to the use of physical force or deadly physical force.”
Crawford actually issued a memo justifying another police shooting in the 1990s, using a claim that law enforcement can shoot at a “fleeing felon” when they believe the person “poses a threat of serious physical harm.” But the Justice Department rejected her analysis and eventually charged the agent in question.
One formal federal prosecutor told WKYC the decision to release the independent reports to the public before they were presented to the grand jury “compromises the integrity of the Grand Jury process.”