Cleveland's Proper Protocol: The Boy the Police Thought Needed Shooting
Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AP
So much outrage, so little time. More than two years after what a prosecutor called a "perfect storm of human error" in which an officer swiftly shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he played with a toy gun in a park, Cleveland police have disciplined a dispatcher who failed to relay the vital facts that he was 12 and the gun was fake. Her punishment: suspension without pay for eight days. Moments before Rice was killed, a resident had called 911 to report someone handling a gun in the park, noting it was "probably a juvenile" and the gun was "probably fake." Dispatcher Constance Hollinger failed to mention the "juvenile" and "fake" parts to officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, who shot Tamir, some reports say, less than a second after pulling up at the park.
Hollinger was disciplined after a closed-door hearing held last month about the November 2014 shooting by Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams; Tamir's family was not invited. Also punished was Officer William Cunningham II, who evidently arrived at the scene after the shooting from another job and tackled Tamir's sobbing sister. For lying about the shooting and working that second job, he was suspended without pay for two days. Loehmann and Garmback both got disciplinary letters - respectively, for failing to tell Cleveland officials his former employer said he had an “inability to emotionally function” and for lying about the shooting - but an Ohio grand jury declined to criminally charge them. Both could still face disciplinary charges, which one lawyer compares to "going after Al Capone for tax charges."
The so-called of those involved in the senseless and unreasonable killing of a black child is less than surprising, given what came before. In an in-depth story on the case last summer, Sean Flynn cites an intricately choreographed, deeply flawed, historically racist grand jury process behind which pro-police prosecutors can hide to explain how "a dead child...eventually becomes a half-remembered name on a long and miserable list of other half-remembered names." This, says an attorney for Tamir's family, despite "objective evidence that they summarily executed this child as fast as humanly possible...There is nothing Tamir could have done to not get shot that day.”
This week's news of the suspensions caused outrage; one commenter simply offered a horrified "Mercy God." Tamir's mother Samaria called the so-called disciplining of Hollinger "unacceptable"; Rice family attorney Subodh Chandra called it "pathetic." He was particularly incensed by the platitude Chief Williams added at the end of the suspension letter avowing, straight-faced, "It is the Division's earnest desire that this letter will serve as a deterrent against future acts of this nature." "Fat chance," retorted Chandra, of it "deterring anyone from anything other than continued incompetence and indifference." He went on, "That the dispatcher still has her job when a child is dead speaks volumes about accountability in Cleveland. If this is the best that the system can offer, then the system is broken."
Surveillance screenshot of Tamir right before police arrived