In Tamir Rice Case, Many Errors by Cleveland Police, Then a Fatal One

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

911 Error Killed Tamir Rice.

A slew of errors made by Cleveland’s 911 system and police led to the death of a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun. CLEVELAND, Ohio – Attorneys who filed a lawsuit against the city of Cleveland for Tamir Rice’s death – as well as the lawyer who will presumably replace them in the case – will make their first court appearance in the case Friday morning.CLEVELAND – A New York Times article released Thursday night puts emphasis on problems the Cleveland Police Department had, even before the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. Instead, Tamir Rice was identified as a man in his 20s with a black revolver even when the initial caller reported the gun was “probably fake” and the person was “probably a juvenile.” But cops never received that info from the 911 dispatch, only a Code 1 alert—the highest of urgency.

He threw a snowball, settled down at a picnic table and flopped his head onto his arms in a perfect assertion of preteen ennui, a grainy security video shows. Cleveland garnered national attention last November when officers shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice after mistaken a pellet gun for the real thing. The officers on the scene arrived so quickly and pulled up so close to Rice in their car that verbal persuasion or other use-of-force policies couldn’t be used. District Chief Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. in December, asking him to let them off the case because Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, has not spoken to them for several weeks.

In his first national interview since that tragedy, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams disagrees with parts of the Justice Department’s report and defends his troubled force, saying the majority are good. “Of course there are [bad guys among Cleveland Police] and it’s my job to make sure we weed out the bad people from this division and that we nurture and grow and support the good officers that are out there,” says Williams. CBS News Correspondent, Bill Whitaker reports from Cleveland, where he accompanies the city’s law enforcement officers on routine patrol and as they engage in community outreach for a story on the hot-button issue of policing in America.

Seconds later, the boy lay dying from a police officer’s bullet. “Shots fired, male down,” one of the officers in the car called across his radio. “Black male, maybe 20, black revolver, black handgun by him. Samaria Rice is now represented by Walter Madison, an Akron attorney, and Benjamin Crump, a Tallahassee, Florida attorney known for representing families of individuals whose deaths led to questions of racial bias.

An extended version of a surveillance video shot at the recreation center, which was released Jan. 7, shows that that an officer cuffed Tamir’s sister as she ran to check on her brother and that officers waited several minutes before administering first aid to the 12-year-old. Period,” says Williams. “And what makes it even more difficult for me not just as a person who lives in the city but as a chief, is that that happened at the hands of a police officer.” The year before the Rice tragedy, Cleveland requested the Justice Department investigate its police after more than 100 of them joined a high-speed chase of a vehicle whose engine backfire was mistaken for a gunshot. And in death last November, Tamir joined Michael Brown, a teenager fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after being placed in a chokehold by an officer, as touchstones for protests of police violence against unarmed black people across the nation.

But Cleveland’s top police officer does agree with some of the report’s findings. “I agree that there are some issues within the Cleveland Division of Police as they pertain to the use of force…reporting and community issues,” Williams says, alluding to a finding that his officers had a poor relationship with the community. Whitaker also conducts an interview with the family of Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill woman killed in an altercation with Cleveland police officers. Within two seconds of the car’s arrival, Officer Loehmann shot Tamir in the abdomen from point-blank range, raising doubts that he could have warned the boy three times to raise his hands, as the police later claimed.

And when Tamir’s 14-year-old sister came running up minutes later, the officers, who are white, tackled her to the ground and put her in handcuffs, intensifying later public outrage about the boy’s death. But Officer Garmback frantically requested an emergency medical team at least seven times, urging the dispatcher to “step it up” and to send medical workers from a fire station a block away. Police records show that Officer Loehmann was hired without a review of his file at a previous department, where he resigned after suffering a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training.

For Cleveland residents, the shooting highlighted another longstanding problem: The department’s community policing programs had been whittled down to a token effort, a result of cuts a decade earlier that might well have made a life-or-death difference to Tamir. A sign on a telephone pole yards from where he was shot down still advertises a police mini-station in the nearby recreation center where he played basketball. The station is long gone. “If there was one there,” Councilman Jeffrey Johnson said, “he would have known Tamir, because Tamir was a regular, and he would have heard the call and gone out there and said, ‘Tamir, what are you doing?’” He was known as a boisterous, friendly boy. At school, where he had a good attendance record, Tamir was often in trouble, classmates said, mainly for his pranks: He was deft with a whoopee cushion and liked to reseal his empty milk carton to tempt the unsuspecting. “He was bad, but like in a funny way,” said Deovaunté Hotstetter, a 10-year-old schoolmate. “I can’t remember what was so funny, but there was cussing in it.” Deonte Goldsby, 21, a relative, said Tamir, the youngest of four, would take care of his smaller cousins at family gatherings, chasing them or playing with their action figures and dolls.

She knows that somebody would mistake it for a real gun.” In this case, the replica was a few years old, and the orange safety tip, intended to distinguish it from a pistol that fired real bullets, had been removed or had fallen off. The 911 caller was calm, pausing to exchange pleasantries with the dispatcher before getting to the point: A male in Cudell Commons was pointing a pistol at people and scaring them. Officer Loehmann had grown up in Parma, a largely white suburb of Cleveland, but he commuted 30 minutes to an all-male, Roman Catholic high school on the city’s east side, Benedictine, where many of the students were minorities.

Loehmann had a solid record at Benedictine, where as a junior he was in Father Gonda’s theology class. “He had a very low-key personality, and I would say kind of a gentle personality,” Father Gonda said. Anselm Zupka, who taught Officer Loehmann at Benedictine and was also his confirmation sponsor at his local parish, said “Timmy” had embraced his Catholicism to an extent that Father Zupka suggested to him that he might want to enter the monastery.

So in 2011, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and sociology from Cleveland State University, according to his personnel file, and the next year, he went to work for the police in Independence, Ohio. It has since declined from that peak, but the city is still more violent than it was in 2004, according to F.B.I. data, even as violent crime has continued to drop across Ohio and the country.

Malik said the city’s discipline and arbitration system heavily favored officers, making it difficult to punish misconduct. “It’s a culture of no consequences,” said Mr. The episode prompted an investigation by the state’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, a Republican, that found systemic breakdowns in communication and supervision in the department. “When everybody violates the rules,” Mr. You’ve got a culture problem, you’ve got a command-and-control problem, you’ve got a management problem, which goes way past those guys.” The deadly chase also spurred calls for a new Justice Department investigation. Released in December, that study found a pattern of excessive force, suggesting that the police were often hostile with residents and were rarely held accountable for misconduct. “Officers use excessive force against individuals who are in mental health crisis or who may be unable to understand or comply with officers’ commands, including when the individual is not suspected of having committed any crime at all,” the report said. Critics of the force cite hiring standards that require only a high school diploma or equivalent at a time when many big-city departments require some college, and its failure to adequately analyze use-of-force and arrest data in ways that have become standard at many departments.

Detective Steve Loomis, the president of the largest local police union, disputed the idea that the system for resolving complaints against officers favored the police. In the weeks since Tamir’s death, the city and its police department have come under mounting pressure to explain not only the shooting, but also its aftermath, with the officers failing to provide first aid as Tamir lay bleeding. Though the department’s use-of-force policy requires officers to “obtain necessary medical assistance” for injured people, it does not explicitly call for them to perform first aid. Henry Hilow, a lawyer representing Officer Loehmann, said the officers had followed protocol by calling for E.M.S., saying, “They were doing the best they could to get medical attention” for Tamir.

A city inquiry may also examine the dispatch system, in which, Detective Loomis said, the person who took the 911 call did not relay the caller’s caveats to the dispatcher. Rice, 38, is awaiting explanations, and an apology. “Nobody has come to knock on my door and told me what happened,” she said. “Somebody has to be held accountable.”

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