Will A Grand Jury Decide The Tamir Rice Case — And When?

In the wake of the Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury verdicts — both of which allowed cops to walk free after causing the deaths unarmed black men — you can't exactly blame the family of Tamir Rice for feeling a little pessimistic. Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy, was killed by a rookie Cleveland police officer on Nov. 22 because he was carrying a non-lethal pellet gun. Now, family members and supporters are imploring the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office to bypass a grand jury for Tamir Rice's case and indict the officer on their own.

The ire against the grand jury process comes from the belief that it unfairly favors cops. This is for a few reasons: firstly, the prosecutor must work closely with the police themselves to obtain fair and accurate information about the incident. Secondly, there are significant legal safeguards for police using deadly force.

Thirdly, in cases involving race relations and police, it's hard to avoid picking jurors with strong feelings about the police one way or the other. For example, white people tend to trust police, while people of color do not or do so to a lesser degree. It's a complicated process that leaves a lot of room for error and bias.

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The Rice's attorney, Benjamin Crump, said in a press conference on Monday that he expects the County Prosecutor's office to honor a high standard of transparency throughout this process. He, too, would like to avoid a grand jury, but it may not be possible.

Crump said at the press conference:

If there was enough probable cause that exists from the evidence that we know, then we don’t need another grand jury.
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According to Ohio law, it's not possible for a prosecutor to seek a felony indictment without a grand jury. Al Jazeera reports, however, that a prosecutor can file charges against a suspect and seek an indictment afterward.

Doing so, however, would be a pretty drastic and political move on the county prosecutor's part — a move that the prosecutors in St. Louis and Staten Island weren't willing to make. If the Cuyahoga Prosecutor's Office chooses not to file charges and instead opts for the grand jury, it will begin what will most likely be a several month process.

From incident to verdict, it took Staten Island almost five months to choose not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo. We can, and probably should, expect this case to take just as long, if not longer.

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