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Police shooting of Ohio pellet gun boy justified - experts

Published 11/10/2015

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, foreground, speaks during a news conference at police headquarters in Cleveland (The Plain Dealer/AP)
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, foreground, speaks during a news conference at police headquarters in Cleveland (The Plain Dealer/AP)

A white Ohio police officer was justified in shooting dead a black 12-year-old boy holding a pellet gun moments after pulling up beside him, two independent reports have said.

Both a retired FBI agent and a Denver prosecutor found the rookie Cleveland patrolman who shot Tamir Rice exercised a reasonable use of force because he had reason to perceive the boy - described in an emergency call as a man waving and pointing a gun - as a serious threat.

The killing of Tamir has become part of a national outcry about minorities, especially black boys and men, dying during encounters with police.

The reports were released by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, which asked for the outside reviews as it presents evidence to a grand jury that will ultimately determine whether Timothy Loehmann will be charged over the death of Tamir last November.

"We are not reaching any conclusions from these reports," Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said. "The gathering of evidence continues and the grand jury will evaluate it all."

He said the reports, which included a technical reconstruction by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, were released in the interests of being "as public and transparent as possible."

But Subodh Chandra, a lawyer for the Rice family, said the reports showed the prosecutor's office was avoiding accountability.

He said the Rice family wanted the officers held accountable and it seemed "the prosecutor's office has been on a 12-month quest" to avoid it.

Both experts were provided with surveillance video of the shooting that showed Officer Loehmann firing at Tamir within two seconds after the police cruiser driven by his partner pulled up next to the boy.

"(Getting) so-called experts to assist in the whitewash - when the world has the video of what happened - is all the more alarming," he said.

Police said the officers were responding to a call about a man with a gun, but were not told the caller said the gun could be a fake and the man an adolescent.

The report prepared by retired FBI agent Kimberly Crawford concluded that Officer Loehmann's use of force did not violate Tamir's constitutional rights, saying the only facts relevant to such a determination were those the patrolman had at the time he fired the weapon.

Officer Loehmann, she wrote, "had no information to suggest the weapon was anything but a real handgun, and the speed with which the confrontation progressed would not give the officer time to focus on the weapon".

"It is my conclusion that Officer Loehmann's use of deadly force falls within the realm of reasonableness under the dictates of the Fourth Amendment," Ms Crawford wrote, though she noted she was not issuing an opinion as to whether he broke Ohio law or department policy.

Lamar Sims, the chief deputy district attorney in Denver, also concluded that Officer Loehmann's actions were reasonable, based on statements from witnesses and a reconstruction of what happened that day.

Mr Sims said the officers had no idea if the pellet gun was a real gun when they arrived, and that Officer Loehmann was in a position of great peril because he was within feet of Tamir as the boy approached the police car and reached toward his waistband.

"The officers did not create the violent situation," Mr Sims wrote in his review. "They were responding to a situation fraught with the potential for violence to citizens."

Another officer, who recovered the pellet gun after Tamir was shot, told investigators he first thought the gun was a semi-automatic pistol and was surprised when he realised it was not real, Mr Sims noted.

The pellet gun Tamir was holding shot non-lethal plastic projectiles, but its orange markings had been removed.

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