By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A Cleveland police officer who last year fatally shot a 12-year-old boy who was holding a toy replica gun told investigators he had no choice but to open fire, according to a report released on Saturday.
Timothy Loehmann, a rookie officer who shot Tamir Rice in November, said he was "very distraught" after realizing how young the boy was and that he was clutching a replica firearm that fires plastic pellets, an officer who responded to the shooting told investigators.
"He gave me no choice. He reached for the gun and there was nothing I could do," the responding officer quoted Loehmann as saying immediately after the bloodshed.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he was disclosing the findings in the interest of transparency.
"The death of a citizen resulting from the use of deadly force by the police is different from all other cases and deserves a high level of public scrutiny," he said in a statement.
The case is one of a nationwide series of deadly encounters between black males and police officers that have raised an outcry over the use of lethal force by U.S. law enforcement. Loehmann and a second Cleveland officer involved in the shooting are white, and Rice was black.
Rice died the day after he was shot twice outside a city recreation center. Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, were responding to a 911 emergency call about a man with a gun but it turned out to be a replica.
The Cuyahoga County sheriff's department launched the investigation in January, completed it last week and presented it to the prosecutor.
The report did not reach any conclusion about the culpability of the officers.
But prosecutors can use the findings in presenting the case to a grand jury, a panel that would have the power to decide whether to bring criminal charges against one or both of the officers.
Earlier this week, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine found probable cause to charge Loehmann with murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. He recommended charging Garmback with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty charges.
The grand jury can choose to follow those recommendations, amend them or bring no charges whatsoever against the officers.
Investigators were unable to determine from surveillance video the exact moment when Loehmann fired the fatal rounds.
Witnesses to the shooting also told investigators that it was unclear whether Loehmann shouted verbal commands to Rice before firing.
Walter Madison, a lawyer for the Rice family, said in a statement that the judge's recommendation and release of the findings show that community pressure for justice was working.
The two officers involved in the shooting declined to be interviewed by investigators, according to the report.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Chizu Nomiyama)