CLEVELAND (AP) — The attorneys for the family of a 12-year-old black boy who was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer while carrying a pellet gun have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate both the killing and the conduct of the prosecutor in charge of the case.
In a letter released Tuesday, the attorneys claimed that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty "has abdicated his responsibility to conduct a fair and impartial investigation and has severely compromised the grand jury process." A grand jury has been hearing evidence about whether the officer and his partner should be charged criminally.
Rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann killed Tamir Rice after he and training officer Frank Garmback responded to a 911 call about a man waving a gun and pointing it at people outside a Cleveland recreation center in November 2014. Footage from a surveillance camera shows Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of a police cruiser skidding to a stop next to the boy.
The family attorneys assailed prosecutors in the letter to the DOJ for not questioning Loehmann and Garmback after the officers read statements about their versions of the shooting to the grand jury. The letter also criticized the "hostile, unprofessional and unfair questioning" of the family's use-of-force experts during their testimony last week.
"No objective observer looking at what is taking place here could conclude anything other than that this process has been corrupted and is unfair," the letter to the DOJ said.
The family's experts concluded that the shooting was unreasonable and preventable and that Loehmann's response was excessive given the circumstances. Use-of-force experts hired by prosecutors said the shooting was justified because the officers didn't know the gun was a replica that shoots non-lethal plastic projectiles.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Cleveland said Tuesday that the Rice family attorneys' request would be reviewed.
McGinty said in a statement Tuesday the family's attorneys "have spent months trying to inflame the media and the public with repeated, often inaccurate statements lobbying for their desired outcome." McGinty added that the attorneys know prosecutors can't discuss grand jury proceedings.
Two Ohio law professors said during interviews with The Associated Press on Tuesday that prosecutors hadn't done anything improper. Prosecutors have wide discretion in how they present evidence to grand juries and weren't obligated to question Loehmann or Garmback.
Case Western Reserve University professor Michael Benza said, however, the failure to question the officers could lead to problems in other cases.
"Defense attorneys are watching what's going on and will say, 'I want my guy to get the same treatment these other guys got,'" Benza said.
Ric Simmons of the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University said the treatment of the officers was unusual, but not illegal. Simmons added that if federal prosecutors were to pursue a criminal case, they would have to prove that Loehmann and Garmback intended to violate Tamir's civil rights.
Simmons agreed with the family's attorneys that a special prosecutor should be appointed.
"I always thought that was an appropriate thing to do in the case because there's a strong allegation and some suspicion that prosecutors and police have been working too closely together," Simmons said.
The prosecutor's office issued a second, lengthy statement from McGinty later Tuesday explaining his policy on the handling of police use of force cases. The statement said the appointment of a special prosecutor is limited to "circumstances in which a prosecutor has an actual conflict of interest."
"The courts have never found an inherent conflict of interest when a prosecutor investigates a police officer simply because the office often works with the police agency," the statement said.