Cleveland police reported that an officer shot a 12-year-old male at a recreation center on the city’s West side on Saturday. Tamir E. Rice, of Cleveland, died at MetroHealth Medical Center early Sunday morning. According to a press release from the Cleveland police department:
Officers responded to a radio assignment outside of the recreation center for a male with a gun. The Preliminary information reveals that witnesses reported that a male was in the playground area of the center, waiving [sic] a gun and pointing it at people. Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun. Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso. EMS was contacted and the suspect was transported to MetroHealth Medical Center for treatment.
A 9-1-1 caller told dispatchers “a guy with a gun was pointing it at people” at the recreation center. He said (twice) that the gun was “probably fake,” but said the person was scaring people.
Police dispatchers radioed officers that there was “a male with a gun threatening people” outside the rec center.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeffrey Follmer said dispatchers did not relay that the gun was “probably fake.”
“Besides, we have to assume every gun is real,” he said. “When we don’t, that’s the day we don’t go home.”
Police said that the weapon the suspect was waving was an “airsoft” type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.
Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba told reporters the incident was “very, very tragic” as a handful of community activists shouted obscenities from behind the reporters.
“We don’t come to work everyday and want to use force on anybody,” Tomba said. “That’s not what our job is. We’re part of this community.”
Follmer said a rookie officer and a 10-15 year veteran responded to the call at the playground of the recreation center. The rookie officer saw a black gun sitting on the table and saw the suspect pick up the gun and put it in his waistband.
According to Tomba, Rice did not threaten the officer verbally or physically; however, when told by the officer to put his hands up, Rice allegedly reached into his waistband, pulled out the gun and the rookie officer fired two shots.
Rice’s father asked why police did not use a stun gun to subdue his son. Gregory Henderson told reporters his son was a “respectful” young man who minded his elders.
“Why not taze him? You shot him twice, not once, and at the end of the day you all don’t shoot for the legs, you shoot for the upper body,” Henderson said.
Follmer said the officers thought there was a gun threat in a public park and said an officer using a Taser in that situation puts the officer at risk.
“We’re not trained to shoot people in the leg,” Follmer said. “If we pull that trigger, we feel our lives are in danger.”
Deputy Chief Tomba promised to open an investigation.
“When an officer gives a command, we expect it to be followed,” Tomba said. “The way it looks like right now, it wasn’t followed, but we’re going to continue our investigation.”
Both the officers have been placed on administrative leave while the Cleveland police department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team determines if the shooting was justified.
The shooting comes one day after a quintuple homicide in the city’s Hough neighborhood and as the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Cleveland police department to determine if it uses excessive force against its citizens.
The family of Tamir Rice has hired attorney Timothy Kucharski, who says he will conduct his own investigation of the shooting.
“Tragedies happen when you rush ahead of the facts,” Kucharski said. But he added, “You have to look at this in the context that this is a 12-year-old boy, not a 35-year-old man with a criminal history. You can’t expect adult reactions out of children.”
Kucharski said the family will decide after he conducts his investigation whether to file a civil lawsuit against the Cleveland police department.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Democrat, announced on Sunday that she will introduce legislation that would restrict BB guns, air rifles and airsoft guns.