First, police killed the 12-year-old black boy at a park, barely bringing the car to a halt before jumping out to open fire. Then, minutes later, they pinned his 14-year-old sister to the ground after she ran up to see about her wounded sibling. Next, a media outlet dragged his parents’ names through the mud, implying that their unrelated brushes with the law made them at least somewhat culpable for their child’s death. And on Monday, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office announced that Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who killed Tamir Rice last year, would face no state criminal charges.
It is the end to—or at least a turning point in—a story that is both heartbreaking and stomach-turning: An onlooker calls 911 to report that he sees someone pointing a gun at people in a park. Two critical caveats the caller passes on to 911—that the gun is probably a fake and that the person holding it is probably a juvenile—never make it from the 911 call center to the police who rush onto the scene. (It was and he was.) A New York Times report from early this year explains what happened next:
Within two seconds of the car’s arrival, Officer Loehmann shot Tamir in the abdomen from point-blank range, raising doubts that he could have warned the boy three times to raise his hands, as the police later claimed. And when Tamir’s 14-year-old sister came running up minutes later, the officers, who are white, tackled her to the ground and put her in handcuffs, intensifying later public outrage about the boy’s death. When his distraught mother arrived, the officers also threatened to arrest her unless she calmed down, the mother, Samaria Rice, said.
They shot the boy within two seconds of arriving. What could they have possibly surmised in those two seconds? What might actual police work have looked like, and what were the steps that would have allowed Rice, newly in possession of a toy gun, to have lived through this encounter?
As we know from media reports out of Cleveland, there was no reason to expect that Loemann would or could take appropriate action in that moment. In 2012, the police department that he worked for in Independence, Ohio, noted that he was “distracted” and “weepy” during firearms training. The deputy chief of police there reported that Loehmann “could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal.” That same supervisor wrote, “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.” Loehmann resigned after six months on that force, but went on in March of 2014 to join the Cleveland Police Department, which did not review his file from Independence. He scored the new position after failing to secure a job with police departments in Akron, Euclid, and Parma Heights or with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department.