A Cleveland police officer who shot a 12-year-old boy while he played with a pellet gun in a park last year told a grand jury that he believed he was walking into an "active shooter situation."
In his first publicly released statement of the incident, which sparked a series of protests across the city, 27-year-old Officer Timothy Loehmann said he was justified in shooting sixth grader Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014.
"The suspect had a gun, had been threatening others with the weapon and had not obeyed our command to show us his hands," Loehmann said, according to a written statement that was read to the Cuyahoga County grand jury. The panel is currently deciding whether to bring criminal charges against the officer.
The morning of the shooting, officers were dispatched to respond to a 911 call reporting someone who had been seen in the area with a weapon, though the caller noted that it was "probably fake." The police dispatcher handling the call did not relay this last detail, however.
Loehmann said in the statement that he and Officer Frank Garmbach — a 47-year-old veteran who was behind the wheel of the police cruiser and serving as Loehmann's training officer — "yelled continuously 'show me your hands' " when the vehicle pulled up alongside Rice, whom Loehmann assumed was roughly 18 years old and 185 pounds. He said that he saw Rice's hand moved to his waist band.
"We continued to yell 'show me your hands,' " Loehmann claimed. "I was focused on the subject. Even when he was reaching into his waistband, I didn't fire. I was yelling the command 'show me your hands'."
The officer said he had very little time as he exited his vehicle. Fearing that Rice was an active shooter and that he and his partner were in danger, he discharged two fatal shots.
But footage of the shooting shows that Loehmann drew and fired his gun within two seconds of the patrol car pulling directly up to Rice, leaving in doubt the number of times he could have shouted an order to Rice, who seems to have been given little chance to comply. Attorneys for Rice's family have continued to deny the officers' claims that they gave the boy sufficient warning before opening fire.
Though described as an active shooter situation, Rice appears alone in a gazebo. It is unclear why the officers did not stop the car some distance from Rice and use it as cover as they identified themselves, rather than suddenly pull up the car to within feet of him. Both officers have declined to be interviewed by investigators, but provided unsworn written testimony that was presented to grand jurors on Tuesday.
After the shooting, four minutes passed before an FBI agent responded to the scene and attempted to administer first aid to Rice as the officers stood idly by.
The grainy footage also shows cops rushing to restrain Rice's 14-year-old sister as she attempted to check on her sibling. One officer pushed the girl to the ground and handcuffed her as she screamed, "My baby brother, they killed my baby brother," according to a lawsuit filed by Rice's family.
In response to that suit, the city issued a 41-page court filing claiming that Rice was to blame for his own death because he failed to "avoid injury."
In mid-November, the prosecutor tasked with investigating case released an expert report saying that Loehmann's actions were reasonable. It was the third such report his office has released to that effect as the grand jury continues to weigh the case. Rice's family has questioned the validity of these reports and expressed outrage over their release.
Loehmann was earlier found unfit for police duty by a senior officer at the city of Independence's police department during his five month tenure there.
"He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal," said a letter in his personnel file that was written by Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police.
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies," Polak added.
Before joining the Cleveland Police Department, Loehmann was passed over as a Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department deputy after he received a score of 46 percent on the department's written cognitive exam — which was well short of the 70 percent needed to pass. He was also rejected from jobs in Cleveland area police departments in Akron, Euclid, and Parma Heights.
The Cleveland Police Department and city has come under harsh criticism for the deadly shooting of Rice, 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.