By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Community leaders said they planned to ask a judge on Tuesday to issue arrest warrants for two Cleveland policemen in the 2014 fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy carrying a replica handgun even as prosecutors mull charges against the officers.
The move, a signal of distrust in the community toward the authorities handling the case, represents an attempt to bypass the local prosecutor's office by using an obscure Ohio state law that allows citizens to request an arrest.
The two officers involved in the shooting are white and the boy, Tamir Rice, was black. This is one of a number of cases bringing fresh scrutiny to the issue of police use of force in the United States, particularly against minorities.
"Today, citizens are taking matters into their own hands utilizing the tools of democracy as an instrument of justice," Olivet Institutional Baptist Church pastor Jawanza Colvin said in a statement.
Cleveland's police department agreed last month on a plan to minimize racial bias and the use of excessive force after the U.S. Justice Department found a pattern of abuses against civilians by the local police.
Rice was shot outside a city recreation center last Nov. 22 while he played with a Airsoft-type replica handgun used in play combat.
Rookie police officer Timothy Loehmann fired at Rice twice within two seconds of arriving at the scene with his partner Frank Garmback in response to a 911 emergency call about a man with a gun outside the recreation center, according to authorities. The sixth-grader died the next day.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has said the evidence in the shooting will be presented to a grand jury to decide on whether to bring charges against Loehmann and Garmback after a county sheriff's department completed its investigation last week.
Rice family lawyer Walter Madison said his clients were worried about the transfer of the case to the prosecutor in light of the acquittal of Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo in May in another case.
Brelo, who is white, was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of a black man and a woman.
Those who will present citizens' affidavits to a judge asserting "probable cause" in Rice's death include a Case Western Reserve University professor and local clergy.
It was not clear whether the tactic will work. Joe Frolik, the local prosecutor's spokesman, said Ohio's constitution requires all felony charges be brought by a grand jury.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Colleen Jenkins)