Rice, a 12-year-old African American, was at a playground with a pellet gun that officials have said was indistinguishable from a regular pistol. Two officers responding to a 911 call went to the scene, driving their patrol car onto the grass. The officer in the passenger seat, Timothy Loehmann, shot Rice within seconds, saying afterward that the child appeared to be reaching for a weapon in his waistband.
In announcing the decision to close the case, the Justice Department said that it had conducted an extensive examination of the facts in this tragic event, but that career prosecutors in the department concluded the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Loehmann willfully violated Tamir Rices constitutional rights.
Justice Department declined to use a grand jury in Tamir Rice case
The federal investigation also examined whether the officer and his partner had obstructed justice, and it concluded that there was nothing to pursue.
Subodh Chandra, a lawyer for the Rice family, said the Justice Department’s decision-making process in the case was tainted.
Its beyond comprehension that the department refused to recognize that an officer who claims he shouted commands when the patrol cars window was closed and it was a winter day can be proved to be lying, Chandra said. The Rice family was cheated of a fair process by county prosecutors who took a dive on cross-examining the officers, and theyve been cheated of a fair process yet again by the Justice Department.
The decision, authorities said, reflects the high legal bar that prosecutors must clear to charge police officers with a federal civil rights violation: that the officer knew at the time he acted that what he was doing was wrong and did it anyway, rather than a deadly mistake or misjudgment. Federal authorities also cited video from the incident that is blurry and does not make clear what occurred in the critical final seconds.
The decision not to charge the officers was all but inevitable after Justice Department officials decided not to put witnesses before a grand jury a critical step to seeking charges.
Rices mother, Samaria Rice, said it was blatantly disrespectful that she learned from news reports this year that the Justice Department had shut down the investigation, after career prosecutors recommended a grand jury be convened.
The Rice case reinforces how difficult it can be because of legal limitations and lack of political will for federal prosecutors to pursue charges against on-duty police officers who kill people. Protests and demands for changes to policing and the law intensified again this year after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In 2015, a Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to file charges against Loehmann or Frank Garmback, his partner at the time of the killing. Loehmann ultimately was fired from the department and Garmback was suspended. The city agreed to pay Rices relatives $6 million as part of a civil settlement.