The city of Cleveland has decided who to blame for the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was holding a toy gun when he was shot by police this past November: Tamir Rice.
That defense was one of 20 put forward by the city late last week in response to a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Rice’s family. In the legal filings, the city claims that Rice and his family bear responsibility for any damages, injuries, and losses that resulted from the boy’s shooting death at the hands of the police. Those damages, in the city’s words, were “directly and proximately caused by their own acts”—not by the officer who opened fire literally seconds after arriving at the scene. The city also claims that the boy’s shooting death was caused by his failure “to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
Rice was holding a pellet gun when he was killed by officer Tim Loehmann. As difficult as it is to watch, I’m embedding the video of the shooting here:
Loehmann had previously quit a job at a nearby police department after a supervisor there identified a number of “deficiencies” in his performance and recommended that he no longer be employed. The officer’s personnel file from November 2012 found that the officer “could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal.”
As Cleveland.com explains, Cleveland’s court filing is light on specifics, something that the city has attributed to the fact that the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office has not yet finished its own investigation.
The Rice family’s legal team responded about how you’d expect. “What they said is incredulous at best. It’s unbelievable,” attorney Walter Madison told the Washington Post in an interview Monday. “There are a number of things that we in society don’t allow 12-year-olds to do. We don’t allow them to vote, we don’t allow them to drink. In court we don’t try them as adults. They don’t have the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions.”
City officials had declined to elaborate on the legal defense, but the chief of the local police union didn't hesitate to blame the boy during a recent interview with Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist in Cleveland. “Tamir Rice is in the wrong,” Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association president Steve Loomis told Schultz. “He’s menacing. He’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.”
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told reporters on Monday afternoon that the city was apologizing to the Rice family and the city "for our poor use or words and our insensitivity."
This post has been updated with additional information to include the quote from the police union chief and the mayor.