Reviews of fatal police shooting of black US boy, 11, say it was justified

Police tape is seen near a blocked road in a state in the US.
Police tape is seen near a blocked road in a state in the US.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, was justified in shooting dead a 12-year-old boy carrying a replica gun last year, reports ordered by the prosecutor investigating the incident found on Saturday (Oct 10).

Surveillance video showed Tamir Rice was killed within seconds of the patrol car arriving on the scene in a park. A judge ruled in June that there was probable cause to charge the police officers with murder.

A retired FBI agent and a Denver prosecutor both found in separate reports that Officer Timothy Loehmann's decision to shoot the boy was "reasonable" because Rice could be perceived as a threat.

In a 911 call, Rice was described as a man waving and pointing a gun.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office released the reviews, which it had requested as it gathers evidence to present to a grand jury that will determine whether Officer Loehmann will face criminal charges over Rice's death on November 22, 2014.

"We are not reaching any conclusions from these reports," Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in a statement.

"The gathering of evidence continues and the grand jury will evaluate it all," he added, noting his office had invited Rice family attorneys to provide input or evidence for the case.

His office also released a reconstruction report by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Rice family lawyer Subodh Chandra accused the experts of assisting in a "whitewash" of the incident, and accused the prosecutor of being on an "11-month quest to avoid providing that accountability".

"These supposed 'experts' - all pro-police - dodge the simple fact that the officers rushed Tamir and shot him immediately without assessing the situation in the least," Mr Chandra said. "Who will speak for Tamir before the grand jury? Not the prosecutor, apparently."

In her report, retired FBI special agent Kimberly Crawford said "Officer Loehmann had no information to suggest the weapon was anything but a real handgun, and the speed with which the confrontation progressed would not give the officer time to focus on the weapon".

"Even if time was not a factor, it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to determine that the handgun was a replica," Ms Crawford added.

Mr Lamar Sims, the chief deputy district attorney in Denver, said Officer Loehmann was "in a position of great peril" because he was within feet of Rice, who appeared armed as he approached the patrol car and reached toward his waistband.

"The officers did not create the violent situation - they were responding to a situation fraught with the potential for violence to citizens," Mr Sims said.

Rice's killing and that of other unarmed black men and teenagers at the hands of police triggered protests across the country and fueled the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

The rate at which African-Americans are arrested has declined slightly, but they remain six times more likely than whites to be detained and often face harsher sentences for comparable crimes, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.