- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2015

Calling the Tamir Rice shooting “a perfect storm of human error,” a prosecutor announced Monday that a grand jury had declined to indict two Cleveland police officers in the November 2014 shooting death of the 12-year-old boy as he played with a pellet gun in a park.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty capped a year of national turmoil over racially charged police shootings by making the announcement at a news conference Monday where he mentioned recent high-profile flashpoints in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Chicago.

He said he had recommended that the panel bring no charges against Officer Timothy Loehmann, the rookie patrolman who fired the fatal shots, or his supervising partner, Officer Frank Garmback. But he empaneled the grand jury because he wanted the closely scrutinized decision to be made by an outside citizens body, not his office.

But a disappointed Rice family ridiculed the rationale, accusing the prosecutor of manipulating the panel.

“Given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police,” Mr. McGinty said, explaining that Officer Loehmann had “a mistaken yet reasonable belief that he was about to be shot.”

The issues of police use of force and racial tensions also came to a boil again Monday in Chicago as Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered immediate changes in police training and cut short a family Christmas-season vacation to return to the Windy City and oversee the response to a double fatal shooting over the weekend by that city’s police department.

Chicago’s police department, like Cleveland’s, already is under intense federal scrutiny, and Mr. Emanuel has dismissed his police chief and is facing increasing calls for his own resignation.

In the Cleveland case, Mr. McGinty justified the panel’s decision by implicitly blaming both the police dispatch team for giving the officers a wrong view of the situation and also Rice himself for brandishing a realistic-looking toy gun after having been warned not to.

Both officers are white, and the Nov. 22, 2014, shooting became one of the focal points of the Black Lives Matter movement when a graphic videotape of the shooting was posted online showing the officers firing on Rice within two seconds of exiting their car.

“That original grainy video is only a small part of the story,” the prosecutor said. Thanks to what Mr. McGinty called an enhancement of that videotape, it is now “indisputable that Tamir Rice was drawing a gun from his waist” as the car drove up, he said.

Mr. McGinty noted that the dispatcher who took the 911 call had been told that the gunman in the park “was probably a juvenile and [the gun] may not be real” but did not relay those details to the officers.

Officers Loehmann and Garmback thought they were headed for a “Code 1” live-shooter situation involving “a guy pointing a gun at people” — “errors [that] were substantial contributing factors” in the shooting.

The prosecutor also noted that Rice’s size — 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds — made him look older and that the pellet gun he was brandishing looked like a Colt 1911 handgun and had the distinguishing orange tip removed.

“There was no way the officers could know” the real situation, Mr. McGinty said.

Meanwhile, the weekend shootings in Chicago of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year-old Bettie Jones — police say she was accidentally hit — prompted the city to order an immediate review of how the police handle domestic-dispute calls involving people with mental health problems, such as Mr. LeGrier.

“The changes we have made in recent weeks are just a beginning — not an end,” Mr. Emanuel said in a statement issued Monday. “We will continue to ask tough questions of the police department, of the investigative agencies and of ourselves, to drive the reforms the people of Chicago deserve and expect.”

On Monday, father Antonio LeGrier sued the city over his son’s death, saying officers used excessive force.

The U.S. Department of Justice already had opened a civil rights investigation into the Chicago police in the wake of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, for which Officer Jason Van Dyke was only indicted a year after authorities had videotape showing McDonald being shot 16 times, with several of the bullets entering his body as he lay prone on the street.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said Monday that Mr. Emanuel, who had planned to stay in Cuba until after the new year, “is cutting his family trip short so that he can continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department.”

He will come back to an environment more hostile than the one he left behind as progressives have increased calls for his resignation after demonstrators blocked Christmas Eve shopping on the city’s famed Michigan Avenue district over the McDonald shooting and what they called the city’s cover-up.

Al Sharpton, a former Democratic presidential contender, said Mr. Emanuel is facing “a crisis on steroids.”

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Monday whether Mr. Emanuel could continue in his job, Mr. Sharpton replied: “I don’t see how he can continue governing now.”

In Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson said an internal review of the Rice shooting would now go forward, with the potential of bringing internal disciplinary action against Officer Loehmann and Officer Garmback.

In a statement Monday, the Rice family criticized the prosecutor, accusing Mr. McGinty of “abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment.”

They said they were “saddened and disappointed by this outcome — but not surprised,” and called on the U.S. Justice Department to do “a real investigation.”

Federal prosecutors in Cleveland told reporters Monday that the shooting already was being investigated as a potential federal civil rights case.

People critical of the decision also noted the Officer Loehmann had quit the police force in Independence, Ohio, to avoid being fired after receiving a poor performance review in which he was judged as not emotionally prepared to be a policeman as having a “dismal” performance at the gun range.

According to the public documents posted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Officer Loehmann had failed the department’s written test of cognitive skills with a 46 score, 24 points below the passing 70-grade.

In an interview on CNN, Pastor Jawanza Colvin of Cleveland said that the refusal to indict leaves the city’s black community “with more questions than answers.”

“Why was this young man not given ample opportunity to comply with officers’ commands?” he said, also accusing the police of not giving medical aid to Rice.

But Mr. McGinty noted that the Supreme Court has ruled that police must be judged in deadly-force cases “by what he or she knew at the moment, not what we learned later,” and that split-second decisions cannot be second-guessed.

“Based on these rules, the actions of Officer Loehmann and Officer Garmback were not criminal,” he said. “We knew that charges could not be sustained” at a criminal trial.

While the Rice family criticized the decision, they asked that protesters act “peacefully and democratically.”

Authorities prepared for the worst, setting up barricades outside the Cleveland courthouse where the decision had been announced. But in the early-evening hours, protests were limited to a handful of people at the courthouse and a couple dozen more at the site of the shooting holding signs and pictures of Rice and others killed by police. There were no reports of arrests or damages.

“There never has been any justice in these police murders,” Art Blakey told the Associated Press as he held a sign that read “Indict, Convict, Send Killer Cops to Jail!”

“We’re supposed to swallow these things whole as if this is business as usual.”

Mr. McGinty said he understood the strong emotions the case has raised and went out of his way to acknowledge mistrust between police and minority communities in recent years.

He also praised a consent decree requiring Justice to oversee changes to the city’s use-of-force rules and training. The settlement was reached in the wake of a car chase that ended with a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire and two dead motorists.

Only one policeman was charged in that case, and a judge dismissed all of them, saying there was no proof Officer Michael Brelo, who had fired only some of those shots, had fired the fatal ones.

Mr. McGinty also implicitly encouraged the Rice family to continue their pursuit of a private civil-rights lawsuit against the two officers and the city, saying “the civil justice system may yet provide” recourse and justice in the case.

⦁ Kelly Riddell contributed to this article.

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