How the Police and Legal Systems Failed Tamir Rice

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Published January 3, 2016
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The Montclarion
Tamir Rice, 12, was killed by
Tamir Rice, 12, was killed by

Tamir Rice, 12, was killed by Ohio police officer Timothy Loehmann. Loehmann was not indicted for Rice’s death.
Photo courtesy of wikipedia

About 20 minutes away from Cleveland, a young officer began his career as a police officer in Independence, Ohio. Timothy Loehmann, then 22, brought his personal problems to the training academy and couldn’t follow direction, according to his personnel file.

His problems grew to the point where Independence Deputy Police Chief Jim Polak wrote in a memorandum, “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies.”

Loehmann reportedly didn’t want to stay with the Independence Police and yearned to work for the NYPD in New York City – where his friend lived. The department recommended that he should be fired, but Loehmann resigned on Dec. 5, 2012.

Just under two years later, Loehmann became a police officer in the Cleveland. When Loehmann was hired in 2014, Cleveland had the eighth highest violent crime rate in the nation. Loehmann’s father noted in an interview that his son “loved the action” compared to a quiet suburban neighborhood like Independence.

On Nov. 22, 2014, a police dispatch call came in saying a black male was sitting on a swing in the city park and pointing a gun at people. Loehmann and Officer Frank Garmback responded and arrived on the scene within minutes. However, the dispatcher failed to relay that the caller noted that the gun was probably a fake and the person was probably a kid.

The officers pulled up onto the grass no more than a few feet away from the suspect. Within two seconds of stopping their vehicle, Loehmann shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Rice had been tried, convicted and executed in just two seconds. He was, in the worst possible way, held “accountable” for pointing a “probably fake” gun at people. That same accountability was not applied to Loehmann, however, when a grand jury on Dec. 29, 2015 decided not to indict him in the killing of Rice.

The criminal justice system failed the Rice family on nearly every level.

Loehmann probably should have never been hired by the city of Cleveland in the first place. Their background check didn’t turn up Loehmann’s tumultuous past and review from Independence. When a police chief says, “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies,” in regard to a trainee, it might not be the wisest idea to hire that person.

We don’t know if it would have made a difference, but the police dispatcher failed to mention that the caller stated it was probably a kid with a fake gun. The dispatcher put the officers in the mindset that they were walking into a volatile situation, instead of a potentially less tense scenario.

The officers offered no silver-linings in their actions after the shooting. Rice’s sister attempted to rush to the scene to find out what was going on, but video shows one of the officers immediately tackling her to the ground. No first-aid was administered to Rice until an FBI agent showed up. “I don’t think they knew what to do,” the FBI agent said. Loehmann immediately escalated the situation when he used his weapon and his ensuing behavior does not resemble the “Protect and Serve” motto that police officers swear by.

Finally, the last bastion of hope for justice for the Rice family – the courts – failed them too. FiveThirtyEight reported that prosecutors get an indictment over 99 percent of the time in federal cases. Yet, the grand jury failed to indict Loehmann in the killing of Rice. Although this wasn’t a federal case, the point still stands, as it is typically easy to secure an indictment.

Typically, yes, it is easy to secure an indictment. However, the prosecutor assigned to the case, Timothy McGinty, acted like the officers’ defense attorney rather than a prosecutor. McGinty allowed police officers to testify before the grand jury without any cross-examination on his part, according to the Rice family’s attorneys. To top it off, McGinty recommended that no charges be filed. Again, the prosecutor argued against charging the defendants. McGinty’s actions are shameful and flat-out embarrassing if he wants to be considered a prosecutor.

I’m not a lawyer and I can’t tell you whether the officers did something criminal. But, that is exactly what a trial is for. Without an indictment, the opportunity for a criminal trial is nearly non-existent and Loehmann and Garmback will never truly be held accountable.

Underpinning all of this is the big elephant in the room: Rice would not have been killed if he was white. A 66-year-old white woman pointed a BB gun like the one Rice had at police officers in Connecticut, but she was taken into custody unharmed. Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston church shooter, was taken into custody unharmed. This is how it should be, but enough evidence has shown that you can’t expect that treatment if you are African-American.

We’ve seen too many examples of the criminal justice system not working equally for everyone. Police officers, it seems, can skate trial where the average American citizen almost certainly could not. Money can buy you the best possible defense, no matter the scenario. But if you can’t afford to shell out the money, then you might be forced to plea-bargain your way out or settle with an average defense. Instead being fair and working equally for everyone, the scales of justice are tipped in favor of those with power and wealth.

The bare minimum we can ask for is that a special, independent prosecutor be assigned to all cases brought against police officers. That ensures that there are no conflicts of interest between a prosecutor and police officer, at the very least.

This, however, doesn’t begin to address the whole laundry list of problems that need to be reformed in our criminal justice system. Individual communities won’t begin to trust law enforcement officers or the court system until everyone is held equally accountable, no matter the amount of money you have, your political power or the color of your skin.

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