When Cuyahoga County, Ohio prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced on Dec. 28, 2015 that Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback would not be charged in the shooting death of twelve year old Tamir Rice, he said that the grand jury “declined to indict” the officers. Most of us assumed that meant a “no bill” had been voted on by the grand jury, meaning they had considered all of the evidence and voted as a group against any indictments.
We now learn—through a very peculiar and suspicious set of circumstances—that in fact no vote was taken. This is contrary to every other grand jury case that I’ve ever heard about.
Why wasn’t basic procedure followed?
Grand juries meet, review evidence as presented by a prosecutor, and then vote whether to indict (a true bill) or not (a no bill). But the Cleveland Scene‘s reporters could find no documentation of such a decision. Administrative and Presiding Judge John J. Russo, when contacted, seemed to agree that a true bill or a no bill were the only options for a legitimate grand jury outcome.
The Cuyhoga County prosecutor’s office ultimately revealed that no vote was taken by the grand jurors. In that case, in my opinion, the grand jury has not concluded its work on the matter, and could be reconvened, as could another fresh grand jury, to review the matter.
Part of a pattern
Tamir Rice’s killing shocks the conscience and comes amidst a long line of police shootings of African Americans, armed and unarmed. (Excellent recommendations on how to fix this problem are here.)
In Rice’s case, Officers Loehmann and Garmback, responded after receiving a police dispatch call “of a male black sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people” in a city park. A caller reported that a male was pointing “a pistol” at random people in a local park. Twice he says of the pistol “it’s probably fake.” Toward the end of the two-minute call, the caller stated “he is probably a juvenile.” This information was not relayed to Loehmann or Garmback.
The officers reported that upon their arrival, Rice reached towards a gun in his waistband. According to a surveillance video, within two seconds of arriving on the scene, Loehmann fired two shots before the zone car had come to a halt, hitting Rice once in the torso. Sickeningly, neither officer administered any first aid to Rice after the shooting. The child died on the following day.
Officer Loehmann had previously been deemed an emotionally unstable recruit and unfit for duty.
What this unsettling outcome reveals once again is the tremendous power wielded by local prosecutors in police shooting cases. If they don’t want an indictment, they’re not going to get one. In this case, the proper procedures appear to have been ignored.
The result: no justice for the family of a child who should be alive today. In this climate, everyone should know their rights in criminal cases.