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Tamir Rice's death declared a homicide: autopsy

A dispatcher didn't tell Cleveland officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy last month that the gun might not be real or that the person might be a child, a police union official said Friday.

12-year-old boy was fatally shot by police in November

Demonstrators block Public Square in Cleveland in November to protest the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. An autopsy released Friday formally ruled his death a homicide. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

A dispatcher didn't tell Cleveland officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy last month that the gun might not be real or that the person might be a child, a police union official said Friday.

Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association president Jeff Follmer told The Associated Press in an interview that officers had no way of knowing that Tamir Rice was carrying an airsoft gun, which shoots nonlethal plastic pellets, when a rookie cop shot him in the abdomen Nov. 22. Follmer added that the dispatcher followed protocol when sending the officers on what police call a "gun run."​

Several peaceful protests have taken place in the Ohio city since the shooting, which occurred during a time when police-involved deaths have drawn national attention, particularly the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department released its finding from a 20-month investigation of Cleveland police that found a pattern and practice of officers using excessive force and violating people's civil rights.

Surveillance video released by police shows Tamir, who was black, being shot within seconds of the patrol car stopping near him in the Ohio city. In that time, Officer Timothy Loehmann told the boy to put his hands up, but he didn't, according to police brass and Follmer. Tamir had nearly pulled the gun out of his waistband when Loehmann shot him, Follmer said.

The man who had called the 911 emergency number told dispatchers someone was pointing a pistol that was "probably fake" and scaring everyone. The caller also said the person was probably a child.

Officer Frank Garmback pulled into the park after seeing Tamir at a distance and slammed on the brakes when Tamir did not run, as they had expected, Follmer said. That caused the car to slide on the slick grass and stop within a few feet of the boy, Follmer said.

The officers also thought they were confronting someone around 20 years old, not 12, Follmer said. They didn't learn Tamir's age until later in the day.

An autopsy released Friday said Tamir was 1.70 metres and weighed 195 pounds. He was shot once in the abdomen.

A grand jury will consider whether criminal charges are merited. The officers are on paid administrative leave.

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