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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Police Shooting of Boy With Toy Gun in Cleveland

The family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead by a Cleveland police officer last month, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two police officers and the city. 

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on December 5, pursuing claims for wrongful death and civil rights violations, pursuing claims against both the police officers involved in the shooting and the city of Cleveland, saying negligence and systemic indifference for the safety of the people of Cleveland.

Rice’s shooting death last month sparked national outrage after the incident was caught on tape. Rice was playing with an airsoft replica gun in the park at the Cudell Recreation Center on November 22, when someone called 911 to report that someone was pointing a gun, indicating that the person was probably a juvenile and that the gun was probably fake. The toy gun is made to look real, and was missing the orange safety cap that is used to alert others that the gun is fake.

The indication from the 911 call was not transmitted to Timothy Loehmann or Frank Garmback, the two officers who responded to the call, the lawsuit indicates. Video of the incident shows the patrol car with the two officers pulling up close to Rice, and within 1.5 seconds of arriving at the scene, Loehmann shoots Rice in the stomach.

“Had the Defendant Officers properly approached Tamir and properly investigated his possession of the replica gun they would undoubtedly have determined, as the 911 caller suspected, that the gun was fake and that the subject was a juvenile,” the lawsuit states. “Young boys playing with replica guns are commonplace in America and police are expected to approach them safely if an investigation is warranted, not shoot them dead within two seconds.”

The 12-year-old boy lay unattended, shot in the stomach, on the frozen ground for four minutes before receiving medical assistance. He died the next day.

The death of Rice, an African-American boy, has fueled outrage nationwide, particularly in context of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the choking death of Eric Garner, in New York. All were African-Americans, all were killed by police and all were unarmed.

Protestors say that Rice’s death is an example of police excessive force running wild, particularly when dealing with African American men.

Problems with Cleveland Police, Loehmann

The lawsuit came just days after the Department of Justice released a report (PDF) that found the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) has a history of excessive and unnecessary use of force, indicating that it suffers from systemic problems and poor oversight, where officers cover for one another and it appears protecting police jobs takes precedence to protecting the public from violent officers.

“We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CDP engages in a patter or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” The Justice Department report states. “We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices — including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community — contribute to the use of unreasonable force.”

The investigation was launched before the shooting of Rice, after a series of incidents that suggested excessive use of force at the department might be a problem.

In addition to unnecessary use of deadly force, the Justice Department also found unnecessary use of Taser weapons, chemical sprays, incidents of police beatings, and police assaults on the mentally ill.

The lawsuit also comes after revelations that the officer who shot Rice, Loehmann, was forced out of a previous job because of his poor performance.

In November 2012, a letter was placed in Loehmann’s file at the Independence Police Department by Deputy Chief Jim Polak. The letter recommended the department get rid of Loehmann after poor performance during firearms qualification training.

“He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal,” the letter states. “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.”

The lawsuit says that a culture of indifference led to Loehmann’s hiring in Cleveland, the failure to relay important information to the officers, and, ultimately, Rice’s death.

“At all times relevant to this action, Defendants Loehmann and Garmback acted unreasonably, negligently, recklessly, wantonly, willfully, knowingly, intentionally, and with deliberate indifference to the safety and rights of Tamir Rice when they confronted him in a terrifying manner, used deadly force on him, and failed to secure timely medical assistance on November 22, 2014,” the lawsuit states.

“Defendant City of Cleveland’s policies, patterns, practices, customs and usages regarding the use of deadly force against nondangerous subjects were the moving force behind the use of force and proximately caused Tamir Rice’s suffering and death.”

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