Lawyers Suspected DOJ Stalled Tamir Rice Case So Statute of Limitations Would Run: Report
This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.
There’s new scrutiny against the Department of Justice for reportedly ending its civil rights probe into the 2014 police shooting of Tamir Rice, 12. Supervisors took two years to respond to prosecutors who asked in 2017 to use a grand jury to collect evidence, and they finally denied the request in 2019, according to two sources cited by The New York Times. Nonetheless, the department has not formally closed the case, has not explained why they declined to issue any charges, nor announced that they will file no charges.
The report comes after Attorney David Z. Seide, senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project, said that the DOJ’s inspector general’s office told him that it wouldn’t look into the allegation that the department mishandled the case. He is described as representing “a person familiar with the case.”
The inspector general’s office currently does not have the ability to look at alleged ethical and professional misconduct by DOJ lawyers. The DOJ declined to comment in this story.
Two career DOJ prosecutors Jared Fishman and Nick Reddick wanted a grand jury so they could subpoena documents and testimony. They wanted to look at a possible obstruction of justice case, surrounding whether now-former Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann was truthful when he claimed to have told Rice to put his hands up before the shooting.
The lawyers wrote two memos over two years requesting a grand jury, but they got no answer. The reported suspicion among career lawyers was that political appointees were sandbagging the case so that the statute of limitations on obstruction might run. Nonetheless, these career lawyers generally described in the article did not have first-hand knowledge regarding this. Per the Times:
The inaction prompted suspicions among career lawyers that political appointees were running out the clock: The statute of limitations generally expires after five years for obstruction charges, and the officers made their statements in 2014 and 2015. But they had no direct knowledge of the discussions within the division’s front office, nor about interactions — if any — regarding the case with the attorney general’s office.
Sources said that the investigation started in the Obama administration, but stagnated in 2016, in part because federal law enforcement officials in Ohio were reluctant to go after Loehmann any more.
As previously reported, a caller reported Rice to 911, but suggested that the child’s gun was likely not real. That information was not relayed to police, however, and Rice–who only had a toy pellet gun–was killed. No charges were filed against Loehmann in the shooting. He did lose his job, but because he was a probationary officer who allegedly lied on his application.