2 Cleveland Police Officers Avoid Federal Charges in Killing of Tamir Rice

Two Cleveland police officers will avoid federal criminal charges for their role in the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who had been carrying a pellet gun when he was shot in 2014, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence in the high-profile case.

The announcement drew to a close a five-year federal investigation into the actions of then-Officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, one that has been criticized by Tamir’s family and government watchdogs as deeply flawed and politically influenced.

Tamir’s killing became a catalyst for the national reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice, but the federal inquiry languished under both the Obama and Trump administrations. In 2019, two career prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division were denied permission to use a grand jury to issue subpoenas for documents or witness testimony.

Justice Department officials said in a lengthy statement on Tuesday that they could not establish that the officers involved in Tamir’s killing willfully violated his civil rights or that they knowingly made false statements with the intent of obstructing a federal investigation.

“This high legal standard — one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law — requires proof that the officer acted with the specific intent to do something the law forbids,” the Justice Department said. “It is not enough to show that the officer made a mistake, acted negligently, acted by accident or mistake, or even exercised bad judgment.”

The outcome of the protracted examination of the case angered the Rice family, which sued Cleveland over Tamir’s death. The city settled the case for $6 million in 2016, and Officer Loehmann was later fired for an unrelated violation.

“It was blatantly disrespectful that I had to learn from the media that the Department of Justice had shut down the investigation, after career prosecutors recommended a grand jury be convened,” Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said in a statement on Tuesday.

On Nov. 22, 2014, Tamir was playing with a replica of a Colt pistol, striking poses with the lifelike airsoft-style gun, which fired plastic pellets, in a local park when the officers responded to a 911 call reporting a person with a gun. What the city’s multilayered 911 system failed to relay was that the caller said that the gun was “probably fake” and that the person wielding it was “probably a juvenile.”

Mr. Loehmann, a rookie officer, shot Tamir in the abdomen from point-blank range within two seconds of the arrival of his patrol car.

In late October, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department had quietly quashed its inquiry into Tamir’s killing.

The Justice Department said on Tuesday that it had analyzed a surveillance video from a nearby recreation center, but that the footage was grainy and did not shed light on what happened in the seconds before Tamir was killed.

“Although Tamir Rice’s death is tragic, the evidence does not meet these substantial evidentiary requirements,” the Justice Department said.

Subodh Chandra, a former federal prosecutor who is representing the Rice family, said on Tuesday that the process had been tainted. “The Rice family has been cheated of a fair process yet again,” Mr. Chandra said in an email.

Mr. Chandra said the Justice Department had ignored the Rice family’s request for an accounting of the department’s internal discussions of the case and to make public the recommendations of the two prosecutors who requested permission to use a grand jury.

In 2015, a grand jury in Cuyahoga County decided not to charge Officer Loehmann with any crime under state law. The decision, which was based on a recommendation by the county prosecutor, set off protests.

Henry Hilow, a lawyer for the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association who represented the two officers involved in the case, said that Tuesday’s announcement by the Justice Department was a further affirmation of the facts of the case.

“I agree with the decision of the Justice Department,” Mr. Hilow said in a voice mail message on Tuesday night. “It is consistent with the findings in the investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Cuyahoga County and with all the independent investigations.”

In 2017, Mr. Loehmann was fired for lying on his employment application in 2013, a violation that came to light only after officials began investigating the officers after Tamir’s death.

A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Division of Police declined to comment on Tuesday night.

In August, a lawyer for a government watchdog group filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, accusing the department of mishandling the case.

The lawyer, David Z. Seide of the Government Accountability Project, who represents a person familiar with the case, said in an interview on Tuesday night that the Justice Department inquiry had become so protracted that the statute of limitations for bringing civil rights or obstruction charges against the officers had already expired.

“The tragedy of this case was there was political meddling that prevented the case from being investigated,” Mr. Seide said.

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