Two new expert reports, released Saturday, said Rice's death was "heartbreaking" but constitutional

By Adam Carlson
Updated October 11, 2015 01:20 PM
Tamir Rice
| Credit: Richardson & Kucharski Co., L.P.A./AP

Though “heartbreaking,” the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer last year was reasonable, according to two new reports from outside experts, as the officer had no way of knowing Rice was not armed.

Kimberly Crawford and S. Lamar Sims, a retired FBI agent and Denver district attorney, respectively, authored the two reports, which were released Saturday by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office as it continues to investigate Rice’s November 2014 death.

It was later revealed that Rice had been in possession of a fake gun (which triggered the police call) at the time of the shooting, and was not pointing it when he was shot.

The Crawford and Sims reports, released Saturday, said they had analyzed the shooting under the U.S. Constitution – not Ohio state law or department policy.

Under this rubric, according to their reports, Rice’s fatal shooting by officer Timothy Loehmann was “reasonable.”

Additional questions, such as whether or not Loehmann issued any verbal warnings to Rice before firing and whether or not Loehmann recognized Rice’s young age, were not relevant under this constitutional scrutiny, Crawford claimed.

According to the reports, such use of force evaluations hinge on the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tennessee v. Garner and 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor.

In Garner, the court ruled that deadly force may only be used to stop a fleeing unarmed suspect if police have probable cause to believe that suspect “poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others”

The factors set forth in Graham for evaluating an excessive force claim are, according to the court: “The severity of the crime,” the immediate threat posed by the suspect and whether or not the suspect is actively resisting or attempting to evade arrest.

The questions in Graham must be evaluated “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,” and not in hindsight, the court ruled.

Critics have attacked the police response – following a 911 call that a “guy” who was possibly a juvenile was displaying a “probably” fake weapon – as obvious overreach, given that video of the shooting shows that Loehmann fired on Rice within moments of arriving on the scene.

Officer Frank Garmback, who was driving their police cruiser, did not fire.

“We now have grave concerns that there will be no criminal prosecution,” Rice family attorney Jonathan S. Abady said in a statement, according to the New York Times.

“We are not reaching any conclusions from these reports. The gathering of evidence continues and the [grand jury] will evaluate it all,” Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said in a statement.

Additional evidence and input from the Rice family and the public continues to be welcome in the investigation, McGinty said.