Framing a child for his own murder

March 5, 2015

Nicole Colson reports on the blame that Cleveland police and city officials are heaping on Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by police last year.

BLAMING A child for his own murder.

That's the only way to interpret the language in a court document files by the city of Cleveland in response to a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot and killed by police on November 22.

Tamir was shot by officer Tim Loehmann after a call to 911 reported that someone, "probably a juvenile," was in a park with a gun, which the caller said was "probably fake." (The "gun" turned out to be a pellet gun.) Police drove up to the scene, and within two seconds of getting out of the patrol car, Loehmann opened fire, hitting Tamir, who died the following day.

For four minutes afterward, neither Loehmann nor his partner gave Tamir medical aid as the child bled out--though they did handcuff and arrest Tamir's distraught 14-year-old sister for trying to rush to her brother's side.

Yet the city's 41-page legal filing ignores all these facts and place blame for Tamir's death squarely on Tamir himself. The document states, "[Tamir's] injuries, losses, and damages complained of, were directly and proximately caused by the failure of [Tamir] to exercise due care to avoid injury."

Tamir Rice
Tamir Rice

After a public outcry, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson called a press conference to apologize for the language used in the city's legal document. "We used words and phrased things in such a way that was very insensitive," Jackson told reporters.

Yet the mayor defended the idea that the city had to make every potential argument that might be part of its defense in the eventual court case. Jackson promised that the city would resubmit its filing with the offensive language removed--but it was unclear if the city would remove the argument that Tamir was responsible for his own death, or just phrase it differently.

According to the Rice family's attorney, the apology is hollow given that the city appears to be preserving its right to blame Tamir for his own death, rather than taking responsibility for the chain of events that led to a Cleveland cop shooting a child without warning and then brutalizing his sister.

"Whatever words you use, the point remains that they are still blaming a child," Walter Madison, the family's attorney, told the New York Times.

WHILE MAYOR Jackson may have apologized for the city's legal victim-blaming, police officials continue to go out of their way to demonize Tamir.

As with the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police have repeatedly talked about Tamir's size and supposedly "threatening manner." Steve Loomis, the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association president, told

Tamir Rice is in the wrong. He's menacing. He's 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn't that little kid you're seeing in pictures. He's a 12-year-old in an adult body. Tamir looks to his left and sees a police car. He puts his gun in his waistband. Those people--99 percent of the time those people run away from us...The guy with the gun is not running. He's walking toward us. He's squaring off with Cleveland police and he has a gun. Loehmann is thinking, "Oh my God, he's pulling it out of his waistband."

First, what the hell does Loomis mean by "those people"?

Second, though convenient for the cops, the story Loomis tells is flatly contradicted by surveillance video, which shows Loehmann firing on Tamir less than two seconds after emerging from his police cruiser. In fact, Loehmann began firing before he was even fully out of the police car.

The video footage proves that Cleveland police repeatedly lied about the shooting of Tamir. Police have claimed: that Tamir was with a group of people (he was alone); that police arriving on the scene exited the patrol car and ordered Tamir at least three times to put his hands in the air (the cops opened fire immediately after arriving on the scene); and that Tamir was shot when he reached for his waistband to pull out the gun (he does not appear to reach for the gun at all).

ONE OF the biggest questions that remains is how Tim Loehmann was able to get a job as a police officer in Cleveland in the first place.

Loehmann has a documented history of instability while on the job as a police officer, which led to his eventual resignation from at least one previous job. As a cop in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Loehmann was the subject of numerous complaints. His personnel file shows that supervisors found him to be "distracted and weepy" and "emotionally immature." He demonstrated "a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions," and suffered what a supervisor called a "dangerous loss of composure during live [firing] range training."

"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak later wrote about Loehmann in a November 2012 memo. Polock added that Loehmann's "inability to perform basic functions as instructed, and his inability to emotionally function because of a personal situation at home with an on-and-off-again girlfriend leads one to believe that he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation."

Loehmann resigned the following month. He applied for positions with police departments in Akron, Euclid and Parma Heights, Ohio--and was turned down in each case. In September 2013, Loehmann failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department's written entrance exam--scoring just 46 out of 100.

But in March 2014, Loehmann was offered a job with the Cleveland Police Department. The city's background check apparently didn't turn up his job performance reviews from his time as a cop in Independence--or if it did, the department didn't deem it serious enough to prevent him from getting a job.

AS WALTER Madison told the New York Times, "It cannot be [Tamir's] fault that the city negligently hired the officer without reviewing his personnel file. It's not this kid's fault that [Loehmann] had emotional instability."

That, unfortunately, hasn't stopped some in the media from smearing not only Tamir, but the rest of his family--in the same way that Mike Brown was slandered by the media as "no angel" following his killing in Ferguson, Missouri.

One low point was a article describing Leonard Warner, Tamir's father, as having "a history of violence against women"--and Samaria Rice, Tamir's mother, as having "pleaded guilty to drug trafficking last year and assault in 2001." The paper justified its article by claiming that readers "have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence"--as though either of his parent's criminal records could give any insight into why Loehman opened fire at Tamir two seconds after rolling up on him.

Far more relevant is the Cleveland police department's lengthy history of corruption and brutality. A Justice Department report released in December 2014 found that Cleveland police engaged in a pattern of excessive force, and that "structural and systemic deficiencies and practices--including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community--contribute to the use of unreasonable force."

The report went on to document:

-- The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;

The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists;

Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and

The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable and places officers and civilians at unnecessary risk.

The Justice Department report describers nothing less than a criminal gang, prone to murderous violence. That, and no other reason, is why Tamir Rice is dead today.

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