CHICAGO • A US grand jury in Ohio has declined to bring criminal charges against Cleveland police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy last year.
The November 2014 death of Tamir Rice - a black child who had been carrying a replica gun in a playground when he was shot dead - and the fatal shootings of other African-Americans by police have triggered protests across the country.
Surveillance video showed Tamir was fatally shot within seconds of the patrol car arriving on the scene as he began to pull the toy gun out of his waistband. The boy died hours later in hospital.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty described a "perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications by all involved that day" - and said evidence considered by the grand jury "did not indicate criminal conduct by police".
"It would be irresponsible and unreasonable if the law required a police officer to wait and see if the gun was real," Mr McGinty told reporters on Monday. The Tamir Rice shooting came just days before a grand jury opted not to indict a white police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August last year. The two incidents are frequently cited in the ongoing national debate about how race plays into police actions in the US.
In the latest incident to raise hackles, Chicago police responding to a domestic dispute on Sunday shot dead a young black man who was holding a baseball bat as he came down the stairs. Police also accidentally killed his neighbour, a mother of five.
Tamir's family said they were "saddened and disappointed" by the grand jury's decision "but not surprised". They accused Mr McGinty of "abusing and manipulating the grand jury process to orchestrate a vote against indictment" and urged federal prosecutors to "step in to conduct a real investigation".
Ohio Governor John Kasich urged residents not to "give in to anger and frustration and let it divide us".
"Tamir Rice's death was a heartbreaking tragedy and I understand how this decision will leave many people asking themselves if justice was served," he said in a statement.
"We have made progress to improve the way communities and police work together in our state, and we're beginning to see a path to positive change so everyone shares in the safety and success they deserve," he added.
A judge had recommended in June that there was probable cause to charge the officers, but independent reports ordered by Mr McGinty's office - which were released in October - found that officer Timothy Loehmann was justified in shooting Tamir.
In December last year, a federal probe launched by the Justice Department - well before the Tamir Rice shooting - found that Cleveland police had engaged in a pattern of using excessive force.
Cleveland - with a population of 390,000 that is over 50 per cent African-American - pledged in May to overhaul its police force and aspire to "bias-free" law enforcement, under an agreement with the Justice Department.