A white Cleveland police officer was justified in fatally shooting a 12-year-old African-American boy with a toy gun, according to a report released to the public Thursday by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office.
Retired Florida police officer W. Ken Katsaris, who regularly consults with law enforcement on use of force, is the third independent expert contracted by the office of prosecutor Tim McGinty to conclude that patrolman Timothy Loehmann was justified in shooting Tamir Rice outside a Cleveland recreation center on Nov. 22, 2014.
This latest finding follows last month’s release of reports from a Denver deputy prosecutor and a retired FBI agent, the timing and content of which, according to Rice family attorney Subodh Chandra, signaled the prosecutor’s bias in favor of the officers.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury is reported to be currently hearing evidence from prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Loehmann, who was a rookie a year ago, and his training officer, patrolman Frank Garmback, who was driving the police car that surveillance video showed pulling within a few feet of Rice.
"This unquestionably was a tragic loss of life," Katsaris wrote. "But to compound the tragedy by labeling the officers' conduct as anything but objectively reasonable would also be a tragedy."
In response, Rice family member LaTonya Goldsby told Al Jazeera via email: “I believe that the statements and actions of the county prosecutor are unbecoming of a city official. The lack of respect shown to my family through this process is unsettling.”
Goldsby believes McGinty has not represented the interests of “the Rice family and [its] community” in the case he is presenting to the grand jury.
Katsaris has a previous relationship with McGinty, having testified for the prosecution at the trial of white Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo, who was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for firing the final 15-rounds of a 137-shot barrage that killed two unarmed, black people at the end of a high-speed chase three years ago. A judge acquitted Brelo of the charges in May.
The Rice family and its attorneys have been incensed by the release of the expert reports and have called for McGinty to step aside and allow a special prosecutor to take over the case. The attorneys have said the experts, including Katsaris, are clearly biased in favor of police.
"Regrettably, with the release of yet another utterly biased and shamelessly misguided ‘expert report’ the county prosecutor is making clear his intention to protect the police from accountability under the criminal laws, rather than diligently prosecute them," New York attorney Jonathan Abady, also represnting the Rice family, said in a statement Thursday.
Thursday’s release, said Goldsby, makes it “imperative that McGinty recuse himself from this case and allow for an independent/special Prosecutor to seek an unbiased resolution.”
McGinty said his office hasn't reached any conclusions about the case or what recommendation he will make to the grand jury.
McGinty has come under fire for his recent remarks that the Rice family has "economic motives" in their continued calls for justice. The boy's mother, Samaria Rice, has a federal lawsuit pending against the two officers and the city of Cleveland. A group of rabbis and ministers earlier Thursday called for activists to continue "nonviolent actions" if McGinty refuses to relinquish the case.
The deaths of Rice and other black men at the hands of police in other cities have sparked outrage and the creation of the national Black Lives Matter protest movement. Rice’s death has drawn an especially strong response because of grainy, choppy footage from a surveillance camera that shows the boy being shot by Loehmann less than two seconds after police arrived at a playground where the boy was seen playing with a toy gun.
With The Associated Press