Timothy Loehmann, the white Cleveland police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year, was “objectively reasonable,” an expert on police use of force said, in a report released publicly Thursday by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. Retired Florida police officer W. Ken Katsaris is the third expert who has concluded Loehmann was justified in shooting the black boy with a pellet gun in November 2014.
Rice was shot dead by Loehmann outside a Cleveland recreation center less than two seconds after he was encountered by police. The incident sparked outcry around the U.S. over the use of excessive force by police, and the continued delay on a decision over whether to prosecute Loehmann has drawn widespread criticism. The latest report comes as a county grand jury is hearing evidence from prosecutors to determine if Loehmann and his training officer, patrolman Frank Garmback, will face criminal charges.
"This unquestionably was a tragic loss of life," Katsaris wrote. "But to compound the tragedy by labeling the officers' conduct as anything but objectively reasonable would also be a tragedy."
Attorneys for the family of Tamir Rice have been outraged over the release of the expert reports and have demanded that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty step aside and allow a special prosecutor to take over the case.
"Regrettably, with the release of yet another utterly biased and shamelessly misguided 'expert report' the County Prosecutor is making clear his intention to protect the police from accountability under the criminal laws, rather than diligently prosecute them," attorney Jonathan Abady of New York said in a statement Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office has not reached any conclusion in Rice’s case and is yet to consider the recommendation that will be given to the grand jury, McGinty reportedly said. "It would be premature for me to announce any final decision on charging," he added.
Police officials had previously stated that Loehmann yelled three times at Tamir to raise his hands. However, investigators from the county sheriff's office said there was no proof that Loehmann said anything to the boy. The officers had responded to a 911 call reporting that a man was pulling a gun in and out of his pants and was pointing it at people. The caller also said the gun might not be real and that the suspect might be a teenager.
Katsaris said in his report that while that information should have been passed on to the officers, it's ultimately not relevant.
"It is simply obvious that the officers had a reasonable belief that Rice was armed," Katsaris wrote.
Rice's death contributed to a growing national fury over the deaths of black people at the hands of white police officers, sparked by the death of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.