A group of community leaders and activists in Cleveland, Ohio, claimed victory on Thursday when a judge agreed that there is probable cause to charge the police officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice with murder, but more than six months after the 12-year-old’s death, the local prosecutor said he still intends to bring the case to a grand jury — eventually.
The Cuyahoga County sheriff’s office just completed its investigation into Rice’s shooting, which became another flashpoint in the national debate over police brutality against young black men. Frustrated by the officials’ slow pace — which they say prevented Rice from being laid to rest until May — the group used an obscure Ohio law to directly petition the court to file criminal charges against the officers.
Cleveland municipal judge Ronald Adrine found probable cause to charge Officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot the boy, with “murder, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty,” and to charge his partner, Frank Garmback, with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. However, Judge Adrine said his role was “advisory in nature,” and he does not have the power to order the officers’ arrest. “That decision is completely within the discretion of the City’s prosecuting attorney,” he wrote.
In his ten-page ruling, Judge Adrine called video of the shooting “notorious and hard to watch,” and said he’s “still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly.” Police claim Officer Loehmann ordered Rice, who was playing with a pellet gun, to put his hands up three times and he failed to do so. But Judge Adrine noted that the police cruiser “is still in the process of stopping when Rice is shot,” and eight minutes go by before anyone checks on the boy as he lies wounded on the ground.
The results of the county sheriff’s investigation were handed over to prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s earlier this month, and according to the New York Times, McGinty says his office still needs to conduct its own investigation. He has not said how long that might take, and on Thursday he suggested that the judge’s ruling will have no bearing on the process. “This case, as with all other fatal use of deadly force cases involving law enforcement officers, will go the the grand jury,” McGinty said. “Ultimately the grand jury decides whether police officers are charged or not charged.”
While the ruling does not affect the legal process, it may put pressure on McGinty’s office to move more quickly, and Joshua Dressler, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, told the L.A. Times it may influence grand jurors, who are allowed to look at media coverage of the case. “Maybe they would push back at a prosecutor a bit more – ‘Why wouldn’t we indict if a judge thinks there’s probable cause?’ It might have some impact,” Dressler said.
Petitioners said earlier this week that they weren’t happy about having to pursue the odd ruling, but they felt they weren’t being served by the criminal justice system. “It’s a small step forward in the fight for justice for Tamir Rice,” petitioner Rachelle Smith said of Judge Adrine’s response. “But it isn’t justice in and of itself.”