By Mitch Smith, nytimes.com
The family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy whose fatal shooting by the Cleveland police in 2014 prompted national outrage, is set to receive $6 million from the city in a settlement announced Monday in federal court records.
The settlement, which would be the latest in a series of seven-figure payouts by major American cities to the families of African-Americans who died at the hands of officers, spares Cleveland the possibility of a federal civil rights trial that could have brought new attention to Tamir’s death and to the city’s troubled police force. It also allows the city to avoid the possibility of an even larger judgment.
The agreement, which is in line with settlements in the deaths of Eric Garner in New York City and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, must still be approved by a probate court. Under the terms of the settlement, Cleveland does not admit wrongdoing. Lawyers for the Rice family had been meeting with city officials to discuss a settlement since early last month.
For the Rice family, which had called for criminal charges against the rookie officer who opened fire almost immediately after encountering Tamir on Nov. 22, 2014, the settlement means a significant payment and an end to civil proceedings. But it does nothing to change the decision by a Cuyahoga County grand jury last year to not indict the officer, Timothy Loehmann. Lawyers for Tamir’s estate said Monday that “no amount of money can adequately compensate” the boy’s relatives for their grief.
“In a situation like this, there’s no such thing as closure or justice,” the lawyers, Jonathan S. Abady and Earl S. Ward, said in a statement. “Nothing will bring Tamir back. His unnecessary and premature death leaves a gaping hole for those who knew and loved him that can never be filled.”
The Rice settlement provides another example of a city opting to settle for millions of dollars rather than to contest a wrongful-death lawsuit in court.
This month, Chicago aldermen approved paying $4.95 million to the family of a man experiencing a mental health crisis who died after being dragged from his cell in handcuffs and shocked repeatedly with a Taser. They also approved $1.5 million to the estate of an asthmatic man who died after a police foot chase; witnesses said he had been denied access to his inhaler.
In September, Baltimore agreed to pay $6.4 million to the family of Mr. Gray, who died in police custody. And last year, New York City agreed to pay $5.9 million to the family of Mr. Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by an officer.
Mayor Frank G. Jackson of Cleveland said Monday that the situation was “not easy for me personally or the city in general,” but that the settlement “protected the rights of the city and its taxpayers.”
“At the end of the day, a 12-year-old child lost their life, and that should not have happened in the city of Cleveland,” he said. “It should not have happened.”
Tamir had been carrying a real-looking pellet gun near a recreation center when someone called 911 to report him. The caller cautioned that Tamir was “probably a juvenile” and that the weapon was “probably fake,” but those qualifications were not relayed to the responding officers, who were told only of a report of a male with a weapon.
Moments later, as grainy surveillance footage showed, a squad car drove over a curb and through snow-dotted grass before sliding to a halt within feet of Tamir. Officer Loehmann, who said later that he had feared for his life and had seen Tamir reaching for his waistband, stepped out of the cruiser and quickly shot the boy.
Tamir’s shooting, which happened two days before a grand jury in Missouri declined to charge the Ferguson officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an African-American 18-year-old, also occurred amid a wave of new attention on use of force by the police, and set off protests in Cleveland.
From the outset, activists, the leader of the local police union and Mr. Jackson agreed that Tamir’s death was tragic. But the city was deeply divided on whether Officer Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, who was driving the cruiser, had committed crimes, or had been justified given what they knew at the time.
As the case made national headlines, it was revealed that Officer Loehmann had resigned from another Ohio police department after a “dangerous loss of composure” during weapons training. Many questioned his decision to fire quickly, as well as the tactics of Officer Garmback, who did not shoot but whose fast approach left his partner little time to assess the situation before acting.
Tensions escalated last year when Cleveland filed a response to the lawsuit that seemed to blame Tamir for his death, prompting an apology from Mr. Jackson and a revised filing. Then, in February, Cleveland moved to sue the Rice family for $500 to cover Tamir’s emergency medical treatment, but quickly reversed course after a public backlash.
The investigation of Tamir’s death stretched over 13 months, and was handed from agency to agency, frustrating activists who saw it as a clear-cut case of police misconduct. Finally, in a hastily organized news conference during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the county prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, announced that grand jurors had declined to charge the officers.
By that point, Mr. McGinty had been widely criticized for his approach to the case. In what he said was an effort at transparency, Mr. McGinty released investigative documents on a piecemeal basis before the grand jury’s decision, including reports from outside experts he had hired who found the shooting justified. The Rice family called for Mr. McGinty to recuse himself, and hired its own experts, who found the shooting unreasonable.
The Rice case figured prominently in Mr. McGinty’s re-election campaign, and last month he lost the Democratic primary.
Tamir’s death also brought increased scrutiny to the Cleveland Police Department, which is operating under a consent decree with the Justice Department and has been involved in a series of high-profile incidents involving black people.
Tanisha Anderson, a black woman said to be suffering from mental illness, died in 2014 after being restrained by officers. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide, and the case remains under investigation. In another case, Mr. McGinty brought manslaughter charges against a Cleveland officer, Michael Brelo, for his role in the 2012 deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, unarmed African-Americans who had led officers on a long chase. Mr. Brelo was acquitted by a judge but has since been fired for violating department policies during the episode.
In their statement on Monday, the Rice family’s lawyers, from the New York firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff and Abady, said, “Tamir’s death is not an isolated event.”
“The problem of police violence, especially in communities of color, is a crisis plaguing our nation,” the lawyers, Mr. Abady and Mr. Ward, said in the statement. “It is the sincere hope of the Rice family that Tamir’s death will stimulate a movement for genuine change in our society and our nation’s policing so that no family ever has to suffer a tragedy such as this again.”