How does a trained police officer make the fatal mistake of shooting a 12-year-old boy who’s carrying a toy gun?
This wrenching question has become a point of national focus, and now, we have the answer. The New York Times just laid out all the numerous factors that led to the shooting death of Tamir Rice. What they detail is a colossal failure to protect and serve, a failure evident at every level of the Cleveland police’s response to a 911 call. If one were to assign blame, there’s plenty to go around, starting with the police dispatcher.
Mistake #1: The Dispatch
When a 911 caller reported a young man waving a gun, the dispatcher failed to relay critical details, including that the gun was likely fake and the young man likely a minor. Instead, the dispatcher told the police there was a “code 1” emergency, and the officers raced to the scene.
Mistake 2: The Police Response
When responding officers Tim Loehman, 26, and his partner, Frank Garmback, 46, arrived on the scene, they parked their car so close to Rice that it was practically impossible for them to take a tactical position or verbally persuade Rice to drop the weapon. Instead, when Officer Loehman stepped out of the vehicle, his door barely opened, and he shot Rice in the stomach at near-point blank range. We know this because the fatal encounter was recorded on surveillance video.
Why, exactly, did officers decide to drive up so close to an armed suspect? According to Henry Hilow, a lawyer for Officer Loehman, the police cruiser failed to stop where they intended. Their vehicle skidded on the snow.
Mistake #3: Hiring Officer Loehman
Why was Officer Loehman so trigger-happy? If anyone took the time to review his file from his previous police department, they would have read reports of Officer Loehman’s strange behavior during firearms training, when he was reportedly “distracted and weepy,” and how he experienced a “dangerous loss of composure.” It was serious enough that his supervisors arrived at the conclusion Loehman “would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions,” when faced with high-stress situations. His first department let him quietly resign.
But the Cleveland police were unaware of any of Loehman’s troubles when they hired him. And so, eight months into the job, when he faced a stressful situation, he did what his previous supervisors feared he would do: he did not make good decisions. Tragically, his poor decision-making deprived a family of their son. As a result of Tamir Rice’s shooting death, the police department has promised that it will review personnel files for new officers.
Why weren’t they doing that in the first place? It’s not such a surprise, seeing as the department has had its budget reduced by 15 percent in the last ten years. In 2004, Cleveland city officials even had to lay off 250 officers, which lead to doubling violent crime stats within two years. When a police force is overwhelmed like that, steps get skipped, protocols are abandoned, and efforts at community policing fall by the wayside as officers attempt to respond to active crimes with insufficient numbers.
Mistake #4: No Consequences for Police Brutality in Past
After an investigation by the federal Justice Department in 2004, the Cleveland police agreed to strengthen their guidelines for the use of force and how they report violent police encounters. However, in 2011 the city had to pay a $600,000 settlement to Edward Henderson because police officers had, as Henderson’s lawyer put it, kicked “his head like a football.” The suspect was on the ground at the time, spread-eagle. Helicopter video recorded the officers stomping on Henderson, who suffered a fractured facial bone.
David Malik, the civil rights lawyer who represented Edward Henderson in his lawsuit against the city, said the court system favors police officers, “It’s a culture of no consequences.” Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine said essentially the same thing after investigating the Cleveland police after more than 60 police vehicles engaged in a high-speed chase that left two unarmed passengers of the fleeing car dead in a hail of 137 bullets. “When everybody violates the rules, the cops are not the problem,“ said DeWine "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.”
If one is looking to lay blame for the shooting death of Tamir Rice, don’t lay it just at the feet of Officer Loehman. As the Justice Dept. and State of Ohio have proven in numerous investigations and reports, Tamir Rice died because of a system that is neither competent nor accountable. To this day, no one from the police department has visited Tamir’s mother to explain to her why her son is dead. She told The New York Times, “Nobody has come to knock on my door and told me what happened. Somebody has to be held accountable.” The answer of what happened is simple: one poorly-trained rookie cop with documented emotional issues and poor decision-making skills was scared of her son, aimed and pulled the trigger, but the whole Cleveland police department killed Tamir Rice.