Shoot First. To Hell with Any Questions.

I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

In Cleveland today there’s a word for what you call it when a white police officer drives up to a playground and shoots a black child dead:


The Cleveland district attorney tasked with the coverup of the shooting last November of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice greased his upcoming grand jury presentation by hiring two independent experts to investigate the killing. Independent in the sense that neither of the experts has spent any of his law enforcement career working as stooge for the Cleveland Police Department, until now.

These independent experts have independently concluded that Tamir was righteously gutted by rookie officer Tim Loehmann when he fired his Glock 17 at the boy from six feet away, twice. That was one lucky bullet, the one that didn’t strike the child — not because it didn’t hit Tamir but because it didn’t hit any other child at the playground and park. Can’t fault the cop for firing wide with that other shot. Hard to take any sort of aim when you’re so scared of the black kid you sprain your ankle because you’re already running to cower behind your cop car. He could be faking his death sprawl. Black kids do that.

I should say right now that I call this slaughtered boy “Tamir” because when I was a news reporter I learned from the AP Stylebook that children on second reference are properly called by their first names. I suspect that both these independent experts call him “Rice” — the Ohio State Highway Patrol even calls him “Mr. Rice” — for a related reason. To call him “Tamir” would embarrassingly concede this was a child armed with a toy whom you put into the county morgue with your 9mm tap to the tummy.

One of those experts hails from my home state. Denver prosecutor Lamar Sims has been investigating cops who shoot citizens — let’s be fair, they shoot immigrants, too — since 1989. In what by my own rough estimation is twenty-six years, those investigations resulted in exactly one (1; o-n-e) criminal filing. No one knows how that one poor cop fell through the cracks, but it’s okay because he was acquitted anyway. Mr. Sims happens to be black, but I’m nearly one hundred percent certain that’s not why the Cleveland DA hired him, aren’t you?

My home-state expert called Tamir’s — excuse me, Rice’s — death “heartbreaking.” Maybe more heartbreaking is that he called it reasonable. “I conclude,” prosecutor Sims concludes, “that Officer Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat.”

Somebody else must have told Mr. Sims about Loehmann’s belief and perception, because those guys never talked with each other. Loehmann hasn’t talked to any other investigator, independent or not, either. Despite the fact that neither the officer who did the shooting, nor the supervising officer who watched his rookie kill the boy, offered any statements, Mr. Sims calls the investigation “complete and thorough.” A little like calling an acorn a tree.

According to the Sims report, Loehmann shot Tamir “at about 3:30 p.m.” In plenty of light: the sun wouldn’t set for another hour and a half. “Visibility was 9.2 miles.” Presumably also pretty good at four-and-a-half feet, the distance from the Glock’s muzzle to Tamir’s belly. The weather report and park “surveillance video from the scene indicate weather was not a factor.” The surveillance video, viewed by about a billion people around the world who saw what apparently Mr. Sims did not see, indicated much more.

The language of his report treats Tamir like a criminal suspect. “Rice frequented the Rec Center” — not, the boy who lived down the street came there often to play, as he did that day too.

Tamir was playing with an Airsoft gun, a toy gun that looked like a Colt 1911 semi-automatic pistol. Although the 911 caller told the dispatcher twice that the gun was “probably fake,” and that the “guy with a pistol” was “probably a juvenile,” those pieces of information don’t appear in the transcript of the call the dispatcher then made to the officers, included by Sims. The facts that the supposed gunman is “a black male” and that “(H)e keeps pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people” does.

Sims notes that the rookie in the patrol car ”previously served as a patrol officer for Independence, OH” and “resigned that position.” Again Sims doesn’t seem to know, like the other billion people in the world who’ve followed this case, that Loehmann was given the choice of resigning or being fired for emotional instability and repeatedly failing to qualify in field and firearms training.

The surveillance video showed that, after the officer who couldn’t pass firearms training shot Tamir, both officers stood well away, pointing their pistols at him as he bled out, neither attempting aid. It was three minutes before an FBI agent who happened to be working with a Cleveland police detective, arrived, saw that the cop who shot Tamir was too busy with crowd control (including Tamir’s fourteen-year-old sister, whom he slammed to the ground and placed in handcuffs; later police threatened to do the same to their mother), to do anything about the dying boy. The agent did what he could for the child until paramedics arrived.

The agent said he then talked to Loehmann who “made a spontaneous utterance that the suspect had a gun and reached for it, after he told the suspect to show his hands and not to reach for it.” Somehow Loehmann had that colloquy in the nearly two seconds it took him to open his car door and blast the boy.

Once again, Sims doesn’t seem to know what a billion other people who saw the video know, that the officers’ various and wandering claims made through their lawyers appear under a microscope to be a giant pile of crap:

They saw Tamir wave the gun around just before they showed up. Not true; check the video.

They saw Tamir pull the gun out of his waistband, moments before Loehmann shot him. Not true; check the video.

They shouted three times at Tamir to drop the gun and show his hands before their car came to a stop. Maybe true: there’s no sound in the security video, and the windows of the patrol car are closed against the cold.

So ask yourself this: if Tamir did hear their muffled cries to drop the gun, where would his hands have had to go, to comply?

[Postscript: Thirty pages of Sims’s fifty-two page report is an addendum about police involvement with toy guns. It’s as if the message here is about toy guns.

Nobody believes that what happened at that playground was about police involvement with toy guns. Not even Mr. Sims.

It was about a white cop who was told a black guy had a gun.]


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3 Responses to Shoot First. To Hell with Any Questions.

  1. Martin Williams 16 October 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    As a criminal defence advocate in South Africa and well versed in gun related homicides, my impression after looking at the video is that the officers version bears no relation to what is shown. It is presumed that he would have been unaware of the footage when he gave his version. It is also easy to be an armchair critic and spend hours dissecting what took place in literally a second or two.

    As a former Police Officer as well, It appears in my opinion that here is an officer that has never been properly trained. I cannot fathom why, knowing there is possibly a person armed with a firearm that you would drive right up to the person. Logic dictates that you stop a distance away and then using the vehicle as cover call on the person to drop what he is carrying and raise his arms and so on.

    The speed of the entire incident tells me that there was never proper warning to the youngster and that at best the officer panicked thinking it was a lethal weapon and fired blindly. There was never enough time to look for orange dots, give three warnings and so forth. Their version was simply to cover up their actions. I really cannot believe that he intended to murder this young man.

    Saying that he would almost certainly have been convicted of at least Culpable Homicide [unlawful negligent killing of a human being] in South African Courts.

    One must sadly also pose the question that under the identical circumstances whether this scenario would have had the same result if the young man was a white person. The answer l come up with is no.

    What is also shocking is that neither officer made any attempt to assist the young man. That goes to a callousness that does not belong in a Police service that is there to protect and serve.

  2. Jason Kerpelman 14 October 2015 at 11:26 am #

    These supposed use of force “experts” are the worst kind of hired-gun experts out there. They know that sympathy often rests with the police officers “who risk their lives every day to keep us safe” (a sentiment that will hopefully change with the increasing exposure of police misconduct by smart phone, body cam, and other videos), and they use “studies” that can be very compelling to juries. These studies, very contrived, supposedly show how quickly a “suspect” can grab a weapon and pose a threat. Contrived, but they work to great effect. The studies often aren’t relevant because who knows whether they depict the situation that was present for the cop, and usually there is no video so the cop can say whatever he wants (as Loehmann did, until the video made him a liar – I think police are actually trained to lie in this fashion, after all, they “risk their lives every day” so lying is okay…). But even if there is video that shows what the actual circumstances were, these “studies” can convincingly create an attitude of “even so, the cop was at grave risk.” See the videos that accompany this New York Times article:

    Attorney’s representing the victims of these shootings need to figure out how to exclude these experts, or cross examine them into insignificance.

    And by the way, in my opinion, “the thin blue line” more accurately represents the Berlin Wall between police misconduct and accountability for it.

  3. David Bates 13 October 2015 at 3:21 pm #

    Philip – it’s hard to make meaningful comment about something like this. Tamir was a kid, for heaven’s sake. Kids play with toy guns. Policemen are supposed to keep kids (and others) safe. Words like incompetent and reckless and stupid (and a few others common decency won’t allow me to use here) come to mind. One can only hope for honest accountability now for Tamir’s sake, and one helluva shake-up in police operating methods. Why are these guys even police officers? My condolences to Tamir’s family. Best wishes from good ole Noo Zealand.

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