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Sheriff: Investigation almost over in shooting death of 12-year-old Ohio boy

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A Cleveland police officer responding to a call about a person with a gun fatally wounded a 12-year-old boy brandishing what turned out to be an air gun that looked very much like a real firearm, police said early Sunday.

OHIO — About a week after Tamir Rice’s mother and her legal team publicly asked how long it would take to finish the investigation into her son’s death, the Cuyahoga County sheriff said Tuesday — 171 days after the 12-year-old was shot — that his department is almost there.

Sheriff Clifford Pinkney provided what he said was a timeline of the investigation, which his department took over in December before beginning its investigation “in earnest” in mid-February. He told reporters that he and his investigators had resolved to leave “zero stones unturned” when the investigation is handed to prosecutors.

The Gray family’s legal team criticized what it said was the torpid pace of the investigation and said the drawn-out process is fueling suspicions that a coverup is in the works.

“It’s been now spanning three seasons, going up on 6 months, and sometimes justice requires just a little more diligence,” family attorney Walter Madison said. “What can be taking so long when you have the entire event there on video? A crime fighter’s dream.”

Pinkney said his investigative team has reviewed thousands of pages of documents, interviewed numerous witnesses and watched “any and all” surveillance video of the November 22 incident in which Cleveland police Officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shot the boy in front of a recreation center.

Still, there are witnesses to be interviewed and forensic evidence to be collected, Pinkney said.

“The majority of our work is complete,” he said. “We have been tirelessly working on this investigation.”

He did not set a deadline for completing the inquiry, but said it shouldn’t “drag out beyond what is reasonable.”

Mother ‘struggling’

While noting that the case is far different from Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, Madison applauded Baltimore officials for charging the officers involved and “getting out ahead of it and being swift and diligent about justice.”

A charge isn’t a conviction, he said, “but it’s a step in the right direction. What we do not have here is the same, and it makes people wonder and it allows suspicion of a coverup.”

On May 4, Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, appeared with her legal team on the steps of the Cuyahoga County Justice Center complex to question the amount of time that has passed since the investigation began, CNN affiliate WJW reported.

“Less than a second and my son is gone, and I want to know how long I got to wait for justice?” she asked.

Tamir was cremated last week, Madison said, explaining that police held the boy’s body for almost six months for investigative purposes.

Samaria Rice recently found a new home after moving to a homeless shelter following Tamir’s death, he said. She moved out of her old residence because she couldn’t bear living across the street from the rec center where her son died, Madison said.

“She’s struggling. No parent hopes or wishes or can even think about burying their 12-year-old child,” the lawyer said. “But that is her reality, and she’s just a person, a mother — a vulnerable person who is now in this national spotlight, part of a movement and she’s barely equipped to get through life on a day-to-day basis.”

Officers issue statement

Cuyahoga County’s medical examiner has ruled Tamir’s death a homicide but has issued no determination as to whether the events that caused the boy’s death constitute a crime.

Cleveland authorities have repeatedly said Loehmann mistook Tamir’s pellet gun for a real firearm.

A witness called 911 on November 22 to say there was “a guy with a pistol” and that although the weapon was “probably” fake, Tamir was scaring people. It doesn’t appear the dispatcher relayed the information to Loehmann and Officer Frank Garmback. Video of the incident shows the two pull up on the snowy grass near a gazebo where Tamir is standing. Within two seconds of exiting the police car, Loehmann shoots the 12-year-old.

The boy died the next day of injuries to “a major vessel, intestines and pelvis.”

In the video, neither Loehmann nor Garmback appears to provide medical assistance to the boy, and Police Chief Calvin Williams has said that Tamir did not receive first aid until an FBI agent arrived on the scene four minutes later.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Loehmann and Garmback released a statement, saying they respect the investigation.

“It is of the highest priority that this investigation protects the due process rights of all parties involved. This investigation must not be influenced by outside commentary or news conferences. For these reasons, we will continue to remain silent as to the facts of this case, until the investigation is concluded,” they said on behalf of their clients.

Officers’ statements incriminating?

A source familiar with the situation provided a clue as to why the investigation is taking so long.

In compliance with court rulings, administrative statements made by Cleveland police officers about the circumstances surrounding Tamir’s death were redacted or purged of information that could have been construed as self-incriminating, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department released the results of a two-year investigation that found Cleveland officers use guns, Tasers, pepper spray and their fists excessively, unnecessarily or in retaliation. The police force has used unnecessary and unreasonable force at a “significant rate,” employing “dangerous tactics” that put the community at risk, the investigation stated.

It was also reported in December that Loehmann’s previous employer, the Independence Police Department in a Cleveland suburb, had numerous complaints about the officer, including that he was “distracted and weepy” and “emotionally immature” and had demonstrated “a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions.”

He also showed “dangerous loss of composure during live range training” and an “inability to manage personal stress,” the department said.

 

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