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A judge ruled Thursday that there is enough evidence to charge a Cleveland police officer with murder in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last November.
Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine ruled that officer Timothy Loehmann could be prosecuted for murder, manslaughter, and reckless homicide. He also said there's evidence to charge Loehmann's partner, Frank Garmback, with reckless homicide or dereliction of duty. The ruling, however, is largely symbolic because the judge can't order prosecutors to pursue the charges.
"We are very much relieved and it is a step towards procedural justice and people having access to their government," Walter Madison, an attorney for the Rice family, told the Guardian.
Rice was shot while playing with a toy Airsoft pellet gun outside a recreation center near his home. Video footage of the incident showed that Loehmann, a rookie cop, fired at Rice within two seconds of pulling up to the scene in his police cruiser. Cleveland officials previously argued Rice was responsible for his own death because he failed to "avoid injury." Police say Rice's pellet gun looked real.
The grainy video of the shooting also shows cops rushing to restrain Rice's 14-year-old sister as she attempts to check on her wounded sibling. One officer pushed the girl to the ground and handcuffed her as she screamed, "My baby brother, they killed my baby brother," the family claimed in a civil suit filed against the city earlier this year.
Rice's death was among a series of officer-involved shootings that have sparked protests against police brutality and racial discrimination nationwide.
Cleveland is making moves to reform its police department after reaching an agreement with the Department of Justice last month. The agreement includes measures to increase the diversity of the police force, boost crisis training intervention, and implement body cameras.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.