The prosecutor tasked with investigating a Cleveland police officer's fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at a playground while he played with a replica pistol has released yet another expert report saying that the officer's actions were reasonable.
It is the third report with this determination that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty has released before the completion of a grand jury investigation into whether to press charges against Officer Timothy Loehmann — and Rice's family is not happy about it.
The family's legal team raised objections about the two previous reports — respectively authored by Colorado prosecutor S. Lamar Sims and retired FBI agent Kimberly Crawford — arguing that "these so-called experts were selected to present a point of view to defend the officer's conduct," and charging that their release had "tainted the grand jury process." Sims had suggested that the shooting was justified before he was commissioned to deliver his report, while Crawford's interpretation of the legality of police force in defending the fatal shooting of a woman by an FBI sniper had been rejected by the Department of Justice.
This third report was written by former Florida cop W. Ken Katsaris, who works as a law enforcement trainer.
"This unquestionably was a tragic loss of life," he wrote. "But to compound the tragedy by labeling the officer's conduct as anything but objectively reasonable would also be a tragedy."
After the reports from Crawford and Sims, Subodh Chandra, an attorney for Rice's family, argued that McGlinty was giving Loehmann special treatment.
"Regrettably, with the release of yet another utterly biased and shamelessly misguided 'expert report,' the County Prosecutor is making clear his intention to protect the police from accountability under the criminal laws, rather than diligently prosecute them," Jonathan Abady, the lead attorney for Rice's family, told the Associated Press.
A central issue in the case is the speed with which Loehmann fired shots at Rice upon arriving at the scene — less than two seconds.
In her report, Crawford said that it was "apparent not only was Officer Loehmann required to make a split-second decision, but also that his response was a reasonable one."
The shooting, which is one of a number of high-profile police killings involving black victims that have received widespread attention over the last year, took place in November 2014 when Cleveland police responded to a 911 call raising alarm about someone with a gun at a local recreation center. The caller had noted that the weapon might be "fake," also mentioned that the suspect might have been a juvenile, but the dispatcher did not relay those details.
Video footage of the incident shows Loehmann firing at Rice immediately after he and his partner Frank Garmback arrive at the scene. The gun in question turned out to actually be a toy pellet gun that was missing its orange safety tip. An investigative report released by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department in June cast doubt on whether Loehmann had shouted an order to Rice before firing at him, and it remains uncertain whether he was given a chance to comply if Leohmann had done so. The officers were apparently so stunned after the shooting that they neglected to administer first aid to Rice.
On Thursday, a group of Cleveland clergy members penned a letter calling for McGlinty to step down from the investigation after he made a controversial comment last week in response to hearing that the boy's mother, Samaria Rice, had called for a special prosecutor.
"They waited until they didn't like the reports they received," he said. "They're very interesting people… let me just leave it at that… and they have their own economic motives."
McGlinty's office later claimed to NBC News that he had not been referring to Samaria Rice.
"A loss on confidence in the integrity of how the case is being handled further erodes the fabric of trust in the criminal justice system and those sworn to work on behalf of the public," the clergymen said.
The grand jury is currently in the evidence phase of the process.
The Cleveland Police Department has come under harsh criticism for the deadly shooting, which has led to protests in Cleveland and across the country in a larger movement to examine police brutality. Earlier this year, the department reached an agreement with the US Department of Justice to undertake specific reforms.
The deal outlines provisions to overhaul multiple areas of the city's police department, including procedures to hire more officers of different races, training in crisis intervention, and equipping all officers with body cameras by the end of this year.