Tamir Rice investigation details released by prosecutor

Last Updated Jun 13, 2015 7:46 PM EDT

CLEVELAND -- Nearly seven months after a Cleveland police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old boy, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office released the results of a sheriff's department investigation into the death of Tamir Rice, CBS affiliate WOIO-TV in Cleveland reported Saturday.

The 12-year-old boy was shot outside the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland Nov. 22. He died at a hospital the following day. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department turned over its investigation to the county prosecutor's office June 3. Prosecutor Tim McGinty has said the racially charged case, as with all police-involved shootings, will be taken to a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the officer who shot Tamir, rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann, or his partner, Frank Garmback.

McGinty said he decided to release the investigative file now in the interests of transparency.

"If we wait years for all litigation to be completed before the citizens are allowed to know what actually happened, we will have squandered our best opportunity to institute needed changes in use-of-force policy, police training and leadership," McGinty said.

The documents detail the moments before the brief, deadly encounter -- and how the responding officers seemed almost shell-shocked as the boy lay bleeding outside the rec center.

A friend of Tamir told sheriff's deputies he had given the airsoft-type gun to him on the morning of Nov. 22 in exchange for one of the boy's cellphones and planned to get it back later that day.

The friend told sheriff's deputies he had taken the gun apart to fix it and was unable to reattach the orange cap that goes on the barrel to indicate it isn't the .45-caliber handgun it's modeled after.

He said he warned Tamir to be careful because the gun looked real.

Investigators were told that Tamir used the airsoft gun, which shoots non-lethal plastic projectiles, to shoot at car tires that day. Loehmann and Garmback were responding to a call about a young man waving and pointing a gun outside the rec center.

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A police officer, left, is seen pointing his weapon during an incident involving the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014, at the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland, Ohio, in this still image from video released by the Cleveland Police Department.
Reuters

Grainy, choppy surveillance video shows Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of his police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy. The video appears to show Tamir reaching for the pellet gun, which is tucked in his waistband, when he's shot.

Investigative documents said it's been estimated that Loehmann fired twice at a range estimated at between 4 1/2 and 7 feet. Autopsy records indicate Tamir was struck only once.

An FBI agent who is a trained paramedic was on a bank robbery detail nearby. He began administering first aid four minutes after the shooting. The agent, whose name is redacted from the files, told investigators that Tamir's wound was severe but he was still initially conscious. Tamir, he said, showed a response when he told him he was there to help.

Loehmann, 26, and Garmback, 47, have been criticized for not giving Tamir first aid. The officers seemed to freeze, the agent said.

"They wanted to do something, but they didn't know what to do," the agent told investigators.

The agent said Tamir answered when he asked him his name and said something about his gun. When Tamir became unresponsive, the agent called out for assistance to keep the boy's airway open. He told investigators he believed it was Garmback who provided help.

Loehmann, who had sprained his ankle while falling back after the shooting, was described as distraught by the agent, according to the documents. He was overheard muttering something to the effect of, "He had a gun and reached for it after I told him to show his hands," WOIO-TV reported.

Tamir died on the operating table early the next morning.

Loehmann's attorney, Henry Hilow, said he has not had a chance to read the investigative file and said the officer committed no wrongdoing.

"The events were a tragedy, but there was no crime committed," he said.

Nearly everyone involved on the scene thought Tamir was older than 12, with estimates ranging from 17 to early 20s. The autopsy report revealed he was 67 inches tall, or 5 foot 7, and weighed 190 pounds.

While Tamir might have been big for his age, those who knew him told investigators that he carried himself like the 12-year-old he was. The sixth-grader was in a special education class of six children at his elementary school, prone to exaggeration and sometimes picked on by other children at the recreation center, the investigative documents say.

Cleveland police said Loehmann told him three times to drop the weapon before the boy reached toward his waistband and the officer fired. Sheriff's detectives wrote that from witness interviews it was unclear if Loehmann shouted anything to Tamir from inside the cruiser before opening fire.

Tamir's death is among a series of cases involving the use of deadly force on black suspects that sparked protests and outrage across the country. Critics have questioned police conduct in the deaths of black suspects in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City, North Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore and elsewhere.

A federal judge on Friday approved an agreement forged between the city of Cleveland and U.S. Department of Justice aimed at reforming the city's police department, which the DOJ concluded after an 18-month investigation had shown a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people's civil rights.

The Sheriff's Department and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) took over the investigation in January, at the request of the Cleveland Police Department.

"We are now in the process of reviewing this report and deciding what additional investigation is needed," McGinty said Saturday, according to WOIO-TV. "That is the way that every significant investigation works: The sheriff's investigation is a good solid foundation that will support the grand jury's own investigation. Tamir's family, the people of this community and the officers involved deserve nothing less than the most thorough investigation and analysis possible."

In addition to reviewing the investigative report, members of the grand jury also can ask to hear from additional witnesses, including expert witnesses. They will ultimately make the final decision about whether criminal charges are warranted, according to McGinty.

On Thursday, a municipal court judge ruled there is enough evidence to charge Loehmann with murder and other charges in Tamir's death and to charge Garmback with reckless homicide or dereliction of duty.

The ruling, which is largely symbolic since it is nonbinding, came days after a group of activists submitted affidavits asking the court to charge the officers.