CLEVELAND (AP) — Investigators have found no hard evidence a Cleveland police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun ordered him to raise his hands before opening fire.
Documents released Saturday by the prosecutor handling the racially charged case detail the moments before the brief, deadly encounter — and how the responding officers seemed almost shell-shocked as Tamir Rice lay dying outside a rec center.
Cleveland police have said the officer who fired the fatal shot, Timothy Loehmann, told Tamir three times to put his hands up, then opened fire when the boy reached for the pellet gun tucked in his waistband.
Grainy, choppy surveillance video shows Loehmann firing two shots within two seconds of his police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy. Cuyahoga County sheriff's detectives investigating the shooting wrote that, based on witness interviews, it was unclear if Loehmann shouted anything to Tamir from inside the cruiser before opening fire.
Tamir's death is among a series of cases involving the use of deadly force on black suspects that sparked protests and outrage across the country. Tamir was black, the officers are white.
Prosecutor Tim McGinty has said the case, as with all police-involved shootings, will be taken to grand jury to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against Loehmann or his partner, Frank Garmback. McGinty said he decided to release the investigative file now in the interests of transparency.
"If we wait years for all litigation to be completed before the citizens are allowed to know what actually happened, we will have squandered our best opportunity to institute needed changes in use of force policy, police training and leadership," McGinty said.
A friend told deputies he had given the pellet gun to Tamir hours before the shooting with the warning to be careful because it looked real, according to the documents.
The friend told sheriff's deputies he had given the airsoft-type gun to him on the morning of Nov. 22 in exchange for one of the boy's cellphones and planned to get it back later that day. The friend said he had taken the gun apart to fix it and been unable to reattach the orange cap that goes on the barrel to indicate it isn't the .45-caliber handgun it's modeled after.
Investigators were told that Tamir used the airsoft gun, which shoots non-lethal plastic projectiles, to shoot at car tires that day.
Loehmann and Garmback were responding to a call about a young man waving and pointing a gun outside the rec center. A 911 caller had also said the gun might be a fake and the man could be a juvenile, but that information was never relayed to the officers.
The surveillance video appears to show Tamir reaching for the pellet gun, which is tucked in his waistband, when he's shot. Investigative documents said it's been estimated that Loehmann fired twice at a range estimated at between 41/2 and 7 feet. Autopsy records indicate Tamir was struck only once.
An FBI agent who is a trained paramedic was on a bank robbery detail nearby. He began administering first aid four minutes after the shooting. The agent, whose name is redacted from the files, told investigators that Tamir's wound was severe but he was still initially conscious. Tamir, he said, showed a response when he told him he was there to help.
Loehmann, 26, and Garmback, 47, have been criticized for not giving Tamir first aid. The officers seemed to freeze, the agent said.
"They wanted to do something, but they didn't know what to do," the agent told investigators.
The agent said Tamir answered when he asked him his name and said something about his gun. When Tamir became unresponsive, the agent called out for assistance to keep the boy's airway open. He told investigators he believed it was Garmback who provided help. Loehmann, who had sprained his ankle while falling back after the shooting, was described as distraught by the agent, according to the documents.
Tamir died on the operating table early the next morning.
Loehmann's attorney, Henry Hilow, said he has not had a chance to read the investigative file and said the officer committed no wrongdoing.
"The events were a tragedy, but there was no crime committed," he said.
The agent guessed that Tamir, who was 5-foot-7 and weighed 195 pounds, was an "older teenager." Police officers at the scene shared the same belief.
While Tamir might have been big for his age, those who knew him told investigators that he carried himself like the 12-year-old he was. The sixth-grader was in a special education class of six children at his elementary school, prone to exaggeration and sometimes picked on by other children at the recreation center, the investigative documents say.
A federal judge on Friday approved an agreement forged between the city of Cleveland and U.S. Department of Justice aimed at reforming the city's police department, which the DOJ concluded after an 18-month investigation had shown a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people's civil rights.