A grand jury cleared two Cleveland police officers in the November 2014 fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was brandishing a toy gun in a park, due to a lack of evidence indicating criminal activity, a prosecutor said on Monday.
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The grand jury for weeks had been hearing testimony on the shooting of Rice, which took place seconds after police arrived at a park next to a Cleveland recreation centre in response to reports of a suspect with a gun. Rice died the next day.
Rice's shooting is one of several cases that have raised questions about police use of deadly force in the United States, particularly against minorities. The officers involved in the shooting were white and Rice was black.
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Rice was playing with a replica handgun outside a recreation centre when Officer Timothy Loehmann shot him twice after reaching the park in a squad car driven by his partner, Frank Garmback.
"Simply put, given this perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunication by all involved that day, the evidence did not indicate criminal conduct by police," Tim McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said in a statement made to the media.
Meanwhile, Cleveland Mayor Fred Jackson announced that the city and police department will proceed with an administrative review that could result in discipline against the officers, who remain on restricted duty.
Before making the announcement, prosecutors told Rice's family of the grand jury's decision.
McGinty said it was a "tough conversation" with Tamir's mother when she was told there would be no charges.
"She was broken up, and it was very hard," the prosecutor said.
Tamir's family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the two officers and the city.
'Manipulating the grand jury process'
In a statement released Monday to the media through a lawyer, Tamir's family alleged McGinty has "mishandled the grand jury process," and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting.
The family accused McGinty of "abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment."
Two outside reviews by an FBI agent and a Denver prosecutor conducted at McGinty's request concluded in October that Loehmann was justified in killing Tamir.
"It is unheard of and highly improper for a prosecutor to hire 'experts' to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation," the Rice family statement reads.
McGinty said Monday he put the case before a grand jury so the evidence would be reviewed not only by a prosecutor but also by a panel of citizens who would make the final call on whether charges were merited.
The family urged anyone who is disappointed in the grand jury decision to express that "peacefully and democratically."
Tamir looked 'much older'
McGinty said enhanced video evidence showed that Rice was reaching for the replica gun, which shoots plastic pellets, when a police squad car responding to a 911 call of a man waving a gun rolled up next to him. An officer then stepped out and shot him.
"At the point where they suddenly came together, both Tamir and the rookie officer were no doubt frightened," McGinty said.
"It is likely that Tamir, whose size made him look much older and who had been warned that his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day, either intended to hand it over to the officers or show them it wasn't a real gun. But there was no way for the officers to know that because they saw the events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective."
Twelve-year-old Tamir stood five-foot-seven, weighed 175 pounds and wore a men's XL jacket.
The Airsoft replica is usually sold with an orange tip on it, which was not on the version Rice carried. It is a replica of a Colt 1911 .45-calibre handgun.
Prosecutors showed a standard handgun side-by-side with a replica at the news conference.
McGinty also called on makers of replica guns to do more to make them easier to distinguish from actual firearms.
In a statement read to the grand jury and released by prosecutors, Loehmann said he yelled for Rice to show his hands and saw him pull a gun from his waistband before the officer fired.
Loehmann and Garmback also said in their statements they were concerned the armed suspect might enter the recreation centre.
After the boy's killing, it was learned that Loehmann had washed out from the police force in the Cleveland suburb of Independence. Loehmann had "dismal" handgun performance, broke down in tears at the gun range and was emotionally immature, according to files. He quit the force before he could be fired.
Two Cleveland police officers have been disciplined for failing to check Loehmann's personnel file before he was hired in Cleveland last year.
The head of Cleveland's police union said Monday the organization was "pleased" with the grand jury's assessment, but there was "no cause for celebration and there will be none."
"While there is absolutely no upside to this issue, there are lessons that should and will be learned by all," Steve Loomis, with the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, said in a statement.