CLEVELAND — The city on Monday reached a US$6 million settlement in a lawsuit over the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy shot by a white police officer while playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation centre.
An order filed in US District Court in Cleveland said the city will pay out $3 million this year and US$3 million the next. There was no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement.
Family attorney Subodh Chandra called the settlement historic but added: “The resolution is nothing to celebrate because a 12-year-old child needlessly lost his life.”
The wrongful death suit filed by his family and estate against the city and officers and dispatchers who were involved alleged police acted recklessly when they confronted the boy on November 22, 2014.
Video of the encounter shows a cruiser skidding to a stop and rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann firing within two seconds of opening the car door. Tamir wasn’t given first aid until about four minutes later, when an FBI agent trained as a paramedic arrived. The boy died the next day.
Tamir’s death has fueled the Black Lives Matter movement that firmly took root in 2014 after Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City died at the hands of police. Grand juries declined to indict officers in those two deaths and in the shooting of Tamir.
A trial is pending for a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Brown’s family. Garner’s family received a US$5.9 million in a settlement with New York City last year.
In the Rice family lawsuit, Samaria Rice had alleged that police failed to immediately provide first aid for her son and caused intentional infliction of emotional distress in how they treated her and her daughter after the shooting.
The officers had asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Loehmann’s attorney has said he bears a heavy burden and must live with what happened.
Tamir’s estate has been assigned US$5.5 million of the settlement. A Cuyahoga County probate judge will decide how the amount will be divided. Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, will receive US$250,000. Claims against Tamir’s estate account for the remaining US$250,000. Tamir’s father, Leonard Warner, was dismissed in February as a party to the lawsuit.
Chandra said the Rice family remains in mourning over Tamir’s death.
“The state criminal justice process cheated them out of true justice,” Chandra said.
A somber Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference Monday that “there is no price you can put on the life of a 12-year-old child.” He said the shooting “should not have happened” but didn’t elaborate.
Jackson said a use-of-force committee is examining the circumstances of the shooting to determine if Loehmann and his training officer, Frank Garmback, should be disciplined.
The officers had responded to a 911 call in which a man drinking a beer and waiting for a bus outside Cudell Recreation Centre reported that a man was waving a gun and pointing it at people. The man told the call taker that the person holding the gun was likely a juvenile and the weapon probably wasn’t real, but the call taker never passed that information to the dispatcher who gave Loehmann and Garmback the high-priority call.
Tamir was carrying a plastic airsoft gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets. He had borrowed it that morning from a friend who warned him to be careful because the gun looked real. It was missing its telltale orange tip.
The settlement comes two years after the city settled another lawsuit connected to the killings of two unarmed black people in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire at the end of a 2012 car chase. Cleveland settled a lawsuit brought by the families of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams for US$3 million.
The fatal shootings of Russell and Williams were cited by the US Justice Department in an investigation into excessive use of force by Cleveland police and helped lead to a court-monitored consent decree aimed at reforming the department.