The union previously urged Rice’s family to “educate the youth of Cleveland” on the danger of fake guns.
The Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association (CPPA) announced plans Monday to sue the manufacturers of realistic toy guns such as the one 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with when Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed him.
Loehmann, whose previous record of service as a cop elsewhere raised serious questions about why the Cleveland Police Department had entrusted him with lethal force on the city’s streets, was never charged in the child’s killing. Video shows he fired before he had fully exited his police cruiser that day.
The passerby who had called 911 about Rice told dispatchers he thought the kid’s gun might be a toy. The 911 dispatcher did not relay that information to Loehmann, his partner, or other responding officers. After shooting the boy, Loehmann and his partner handcuffed Rice’s sister, who watched her brother bleed to death in the snow. Rice was not given first aid attention of any kind until an FBI officer who happened to be in the area arrived and tried to tend his gunshot wound.
A judge in the state had ruled there was probable cause to indict both Loehmann and his partner with negligent homicide. But the local prosecutor who handled an inquiry into the case seemed to steer a grand jury away from indicting either man — a manipulation of the legal process that likely helped fuel his ouster in the ensuing election.
The union’s planned lawsuit is intended to force changes in how pellet guns like Rice’s are shaped, labeled, and painted, CPPA lawyer Henry Hilow told the local ABC affiliate.
Cleveland eventually paid $6 million to settle the Rice family’s wrongful death lawsuit — a moment that prompted Loehmann’s union to a fit of victim-blaming.
“We can only hope the Rice family and their attorneys will use a portion of this settlement to help educate the youth of Cleveland in the dangers associated with the mishandling of both real and facsimile firearms,” CPPA head Stephen Loomis said at the time.
It would be convenient — not just for Loehmann’s union representatives, but for Americans interested in repairing police-community relations more broadly — if the story of Rice’s premature death began and ended with toy guns. That would be a simple tragedy with a simple solution.
But that narrative erases consideration of Loehmann’s actions that day — and thus of his training and supervision in the months and years before that day.
Loehmann and other officers initially claimed they had given Rice multiple verbal warnings and only fired when he did not comply with them. Surveillance video shows Loehmann firing between 2 and 3 seconds after his partner got their car to a full stop in front of the spot where Rice stood, before he had even gotten both feet planted on the ground outside the car.
Loehmann had been a cop in Independence, Ohio, prior to joining the Cleveland force. A letter in his personnel file from Independence warned he had shown a “dangerous loss of composure during live [gun] range training” and recommended “he be released from the employment of the City of Independence.” The letter questioned if Loehmann had the temperament and maturity for police work. It did not stop him getting hired in Cleveland.
Rice’s killing ranks among the most prominent police shooting deaths of black men, women, and children in recent years. To many protesters and police reform advocates, his death captures the intersection of multiple grievances with American policing: Poor screening of those who seek lethal force and a badge, implicit bias in police officer reactions to black skin in situations where white people are often treated differently, and a trigger-happy cowboy-style approach to a job that requires calmer nerves.
The union that represents Tamir Rice’s killer is now suing toy gun makers was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.