CLEVELAND (AP) — A grand jury has begun evaluating evidence to decide whether criminal charges should be filed against two white police officers in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy carrying a pellet gun outside a recreation center.
The head of Cleveland's largest police union told The Associated Press on Tuesday that officers were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury last week and on Monday.
"We've cooperated fully," said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association. "I have all the confidence in the world in the grand jury system and our system of justice."
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty has said he would take the case to the grand jury, but Loomis' comments revealed that the panel had begun hearing the case. McGinty's spokesman Joe Frolik said the prosecutor's office cannot comment on grand jury proceedings.
The Nov. 22, 2014, killing became a flashpoint in the wake of other deadly police encounters with young black males across the country.
Tamir was playing with a borrowed airsoft gun, which shoots nonlethal plastic pellets, when someone called 911. The gun bore a striking resemblance to a real firearm, in part because its tell-tale orange tip had been removed.
Footage recorded by a surveillance camera showed then-rookie patrol officer Timothy Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of a patrol car skidding to a stop just feet from the boy. Questions remain about whether Loehmann told Tamir to raise his hands before firing two shots, one of which struck Tamir.
Henry Hilow, an attorney who accompanied the officers to the grand jury, declined to comment.
McGinty has been a target of criticism by activists and attorneys for Tamir's family for what they perceive as delays in presenting evidence to the grand jury. Those attorneys are involved in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the city and the two officers.
That criticism reached a new height recently when McGinty made public two expert reports that said the shooting was justified because Loehmann and partner Frank Garmback weren't told that the gun Tamir was carrying might not be real, something the 911 caller told a dispatcher.
When the reports were released, McGinty said his office had not drawn any conclusions about the case. Several days later, he said making the documents public would provide time for prosecutors to correct any mistakes.
Subodh Chandra, an attorney for Tamir's family, issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing McGinty for not telling Tamir's mother, Samaria Rice, that prosecutors had begun presenting evidence to the grand jury.
Chandra and other Rice family attorneys have been calling on McGinty to allow a special prosecutor to take over the case. Chandra's statement criticized McGinty for not stepping aside and for his refusal to say that there's probable cause to indict the two officers, which is customary in other grand jury presentations.
"The Rice family continues to lack confidence in the prosecutor's handling of the grand jury process," the statement said. "The family thus believes the secret process is being used as a cover for the prosecutor's lack of interest in bringing charges."
The case is the second high-profile Cleveland police shooting that McGinty's office has handled in recent months.
Last year, prosecutors obtained an indictment charging white Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo with voluntary manslaughter for his role in the deaths of two unarmed black people killed in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire after a lengthy, high-speed chase. Brelo was the only one of 13 officers who fired their weapons the night of Nov. 29, 2012, to be charged criminally. Prosecutors argued that the car's occupants, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, no longer posed a threat when Brelo fired the final 15 rounds.
A judge acquitted Brelo at trial in May.
That case helped prompt a U.S. Justice Department investigation that concluded Cleveland police too often use excessive force and violate people's civil rights. The city and the DOJ reached an agreement earlier this year on a police department reform plan.