WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Cleveland police officer who shot dead a 12-year-old black boy seen waving around a replica gun was "distraught" and acted out of fear for his life, according to an official report released on Saturday.
It comes two days after a judge ruled the two police officers involved should face criminal charges over the death of Tamir Rice in November - a time of heightened racial tensions in the United States following a series of fatal incidents involving black men and boys.
Tamir was fatally shot after police responded to a 911 call that someone was waving around a gun in a park. It turned out to be an airsoft gun and the boy died of his injuries a day later. The chaotic immediate aftermath was revealed after prosecutors released the results of a police investigation into Rice's fatal shooting at the hands of police officer Timothy Loehmann.
The report details an FBI special agent's memory of his interaction with officer Loehmann, whom the agent described as "distraught". "He seemed like a guy that was put in a very difficult situation and had to make a very quick decision based upon what he believed was an imminent fear of death or serious physical injury to himself and reacted to it," he told investigators.
The agent said he did not prompt officer Loehmann to explain his actions and officer Loehmann started talking spontaneously.
"He said (Rice) had a gun, and he reached for it after he told him to show him his hands," the agent told investigators.
The evidence from the investigation will be handed over to a grand jury, which will decide whether to press charges against officers Loehmann and Frank Garmback, who was driving the patrol car that fateful day.
"Transparency (i.e. the actual facts) is essential for an intelligent discussion of the important issues raised by this case," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty.
"If we wait years for all litigation to be completed before the citizens are allowed to know what actually happened, we will have squandered our best opportunity to institute needed changes in use of force policy, police training and leadership."
On Thursday, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine ruled there was probable cause to bring charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against officer Loehmann.
Judge Adrine found there was probable cause to bring charges of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty against Garmback, ABC News reported.
But the judge cautioned that his opinion was "advisory in nature" and it was ultimately up to the "discretion of the city's prosecuting authority" to file charges, the local ABC News station reported.
The ruling comes after community leaders took advantage of an unusual law that allows residents to bypass prosecutors and ask judges to issue arrest warrants.