The city of Cleveland argued in court that Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, caused his own death when a police officer shot and killed him after mistaking Rice's pellet gun for an actual firearm. But following criticisms over the accusation, city officials apologized and vowed to change the language in a future court document.
"This is not the character or personality of the city of Cleveland … to be that insensitive to family or even to victims," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference on Monday, Cleveland.com reported.
The city originally presented the argument in a court document responding to a lawsuit from the Rice family. The response stated that Rice's death was caused "by the failure … to exercise due care to avoid injury," according to Cleveland.com. It also said that all of the injuries claimed by his family "were directly and proximately caused by their own acts," not Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fatally shot Rice.
Imani Gandy at RH Reality Check pointed out that this type of language is standard in legal responses to wrongful death lawsuits. But the connotations of the defense still greatly offended people, particularly the Rice family that had already lost a 12-year-old son.
Loehmann shot Rice while he carried a toy airsoft gun on November 22, and Rice died at the hospital the following day. Video of the incident shows police officers arriving to the park where Rice was playing, and Loehmann shooting the boy within two seconds of getting out of the car.
Prior to the incident, a 911 caller told a dispatcher that a child was waving a gun around in the park but that it was "probably fake." The full information was not relayed to officers, according to authorities.
Police said, according to Cleveland.com, that Rice was sitting under a pavilion in the park with a few people, suggesting that the boy could have been a threat to others. But the video footage shows Rice was sitting alone as police pulled up.
The Associated Press reported that police also claimed that the officer who opened fire on Rice asked the boy to put his hands up three times, suggesting that Rice was given ample warning before he was shot. The video footage doesn't disprove this, but it suggests that Loehmann would have given the commands fairly quickly, since he shot Rice within two seconds of his squad car pulling up to the park pavilion.
Cleveland's original response to the lawsuit also claimed that the city was not aware of Loehmann's troubled history at other police departments. Loehmann resigned from the Independence, Ohio, Police Department in 2012 after he was deemed unfit for duty, in part because he couldn't properly handle a firearm. Other records reported by Cleveland.com showed that Loehmann failed the written entrance exam in 2013 for the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department. He also reportedly failed to get hired at police departments in Akron, Euclid, and Parma Heights after he left Independence.
The city of Cleveland, which handed the shooting investigation to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office for a more independent process, said it can't respond to some of the lawsuit's claims in full because the county's investigation into the shooting isn't completed.
The county is currently investigating the Rice shooting and presenting the evidence to a grand jury. The Rice family separately filed a lawsuit against the city for the shooting.