Tamir Rice
A Cleveland judge found Thursday that there is probable cause for Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice (pictured) in November, to be charged with murder. Reuters

A Cleveland Municipal Court judge found on Thursday there is probable cause for Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November, to be charged with murder. Judge Ronald B. Adrine did not find probable cause to charge Frank Garmback, Loehmann's partner at the time of the shooting, with murder, though the court did find probable cause for negligent homicide charges. The evidence is "unquestionably sufficient to charge felony crimes," Adrine wrote.

“We are very much relieved and it is a step towards procedural justice and people having access to their government,” Walter Madison, a lawyer for the Rice family, told the Guardian.

The opinion was reportedly sent to city and county prosecutors Thursday. Just days ago, activists filed affidavits requesting that the court look at the case and come to the opinion announced Thursday. The opinion does not guarantee that prosecutors will now indict Loehmann.

“This isn't the end of the road, but it's a step and it's encouraging,” said activist Rachelle Smith. The affidavits were filed with the court under a little-used Ohio law that allows any citizen to ask a judge for an arrest warrant, not just prosecutors.

Responding to the opinion, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said in a statement that whether or not the charges are filed will be up to the grand jury. "This case, as with all other fatal use of deadly force cases involving law enforcement officers, will go to the grand jury."

In the opinion, Adrine wrote that the video of Rice’s death that was widely publicized is “notorious and hard to watch. After viewing it several times, this court is still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly."

The judge proceeded to write that there did not appear to be a toy gun in Rice’s hands in the moments before the patrol car drove up to Rice, and that the 12-year-old didn’t seem to have a lot of time to react to any commands from the officers before he was shot after they arrived. “Literally, the entire encounter is over in an instant,” Adrine wrote.

Adrine wrote that minimal requirements for this type of opinion had been met by the affidavits, but that the court’s role in releasing this opinion of the materials it reviewed were advisory in nature. Prosecutors could decide to file misdemeanor or felony charges against the officers -- or not. Either way, it’s their call.

It has been 201 days since Rice was shot in a Cleveland park in late November. Loehmann, a rookie cop, and Garmback arrived at the scene where Rice had been playing. He was shot, and video of the incident later surfaced online. The death contributed to the mounting outrage over a series of unarmed black males being killed at the hands of white officers. A nationwide anti-police brutality movement was sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was walking in the middle of the street in Ferguson, Missouri, before he was killed by a white police officer.