Officers See The Rice Verdict As "Reasonable"

by Melissa Cruz

After yet another lack of indictment after the shooting death of a black individual — in this case, 12-year-old Tamir Rice — the officers involved in the case have continued to speak out in their own defense. On Monday, a grand jury decide not to indict Cleveland officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, and policemen, city officials, and big-name politicians have all spoken in favor of the decision. Loehmann and Garmback's reaction to the verdict rests firmly in the argument that fatally shooting Rice was in the realm of the law. Despite their jump to voice their affirmation over the verdict, Rice devastatingly cannot, of course, speak on his own behalf.

The verdict comes after a year-long legal battle in which the officers maintained their innocence and activists pointed to what they felt was another example of police brutality. From the activists' point-of-view, the incident fit the all-too-familiar parameters of police unjustly exerting force — they shot the boy, at first sight, at a park in fear that he was about to brandish a weapon at them. This weapon, as it turns out, was merely a toy gun. Neither of the police officers performed any first aid for the boy, who died in the hospital the following day. The incident can be watched in a surveillance video, which was released by police after pressure from the public and the Rice family.

Michael P. Maloney, attorney for Garmback, released a statement following the grand jury's decision to not press charges. The statement, in part, reads:

This was a tragic incident. No one at age 12 should lose his or her life this way. Neither should anyone at 18, 20, 40 or 90 years of age, for that matter.

This does not change the few simple, but important, facts in this case and the straightforward law that applied to the grand jury investigation, which was an inquiry about criminal charges. Police officers are authorized by state and federal law to use force, including deadly force. One of the circumstances in which an officer can legally use deadly force is when the officer reasonably believes that he or she is protecting the officer's own life or the life of someone else. For that matter, deadly force can be used under the reasonable fear of serious physical harm.

The term "reasonable" is brought up several times throughout Maloney's statement. He mentions it again when defending the officer who pulled the trigger: "Tamir Rice pulled what the officers believed was a deadly weapon. The legal question, therefore, is whether a reasonable police officer in Officer Loehmann's position at that moment would believe that he had to protect himself or anyone else from serious physical harm or death."

The question as to whether Loehmann could be considered a "reasonable" officer, however, was one of the main arguments used by the prosecution. He had previously resigned from another job as a police officer after being deemed by the deputy police chief as too emotionally unstable, prosecutors said. The police chief feared that Loehmann's consistent "dangerous loss of composure" could put the officer and others at risk, and concluded that, "... [no] time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies."

Loehmann's attorney was evidently a little more simple in his statement, telling CBS affiliate Cleveland 19 about the turmoil his client has gone through:

Local officials and politicians are also clamoring to get their word in, pushing for a peaceful response to what many are deeming a surprising verdict. Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, in an apparent attempt to halt any violent protests like those that have broken out over similar cases this year, stated the following: "Tamir Rice's death was a heartbreaking tragedy and I understand how this decision will leave many people asking themselves if justice was served. We all lose, however, if we give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us. We have made progress to improve the way communities and police work together in our state, and we're beginning to see a path to positive change so everyone shares in the safety and success they deserve."

This progress Kasich mentions doesn't match up with the statistics, however. According to a database created by The Washington Post, 975 people have been fatally shot by police this year. Thirty-seven of those people were black and unarmed.

Angelo Merendino/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Justice is not entirely lost, however, for those who feel the grand jury was incorrect in their decision. Despite the officers and politicians' positive reactions to the verdict, the NAACP, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will continue their own private investigation into the case.

Prosecutor of the case Timothy McGinty echoed this final bit of hope, despite having been on the side of the grand jury: "The civil justice system may yet provide the Rice family with some of the accountability they deserve."