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Cleveland Grand Jury Declines To Indict Police Officers In Tamir Rice Probe


Word came yesterday that a grand jury in Cleveland will not indict two police officers over the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old African-American boy last year. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced the decision, calling the shooting a, quote, "perfect storm of human error, mistakes and miscommunications." But he said officers acted reasonably based on what they knew at the time.


TIMOTHY MCGINTY: The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy. It was horrible, unfortunate and regrettable. But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime.

MONTAGNE: On the line to talk about this now is reporter Nick Castele of member station WCPN. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: OK, so prosecutors say they don't believe police committed a crime. What was their reasoning?

CASTELE: Well, prosecutors say that they thought that officers reasonably believed their lives were in danger at the moment that they approached Tamir Rice in a city park. You know, Tamir had been playing with an air gun at the city park, and a 911 caller had expressed some doubts, saying that the gun was probably fake, but the call taker did not pass that information on to police. Police approached Tamir in this cruiser, and an officer opened the door and shot him within a second. What prosecutors say is, what the law instructs us to do is look at the situation through the eyes of the officer in the moment rather than in 20/20 hindsight. Prosecutors said that an expert review of pretty grainy surveillance video showed, in their opinion, that Tamir was pulling an air gun out of his waistband when he was shot. This is also what officers had told the grand jury. Now, the Rice family had disagreed. They had hired an expert who said Tamir's hands were in his jacket pockets. But prosecutors disagreed with this pretty emphatically. And they said, given the circumstances, police couldn't have known that the gun was not a real firearm.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about the Rice family? How did they react to this decision?

CASTELE: They were very disappointed. You know, the family has been critical of this process the whole time. Tamir Rice's mother, Samaria Rice, in a statement said the prosecutor deliberately sabotaged the case. Those were her words. And the family has been especially critical of the prosecutor's decision to solicit reports from use-of-force experts and release those to the public before the grand jury had come down with his decision - with their decision. All of those reports had said there was no criminal wrongdoing in this case. So the family had gone out and hired their own use-of-force experts to review this case, and those experts said there was probable cause for charges. The family has long said prosecutors should have taken into account how quickly police approached and fired, as well as the fact that it was four minutes before an FBI agent arrived to deliver first aid. So the family has always been very critical of this process.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about the city? It seemed to be pretty calm in the wake of this.

CASTELE: It was pretty calm. You know, there were some protests - a couple dozen people or so marched to a local police district headquarters last night. But, you know, it's also the holidays. It was a pretty rainy day and cold day in Cleveland last night. But more broadly, this case has come to symbolize, in many ways, the trouble that the city has had with police. The city this year agreed to a number of police reforms after the Justice Department found reason to believe police showed a pattern and practice of violating people's constitutional rights. So the city is just beginning to embark on this project, and it's certainly not the end of Cleveland's issues with policing.

MONTAGNE: And, Nick, we just have a couple of seconds here, but very briefly, what happens now to the two officers?

CASTELE: Well, the city's going to review whether the officers broke any administrative policies and whether there's cause for discipline against them. And there's also a civil suit in federal court against the officers and the city.

MONTAGNE: All right, Nick, thanks very much.

CASTELE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Nick Castele of member station WCPN in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nick Castele