The Justice Department decided more than a year ago to close its civil-rights investigation into the high-profile killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy carrying a pellet gun who was shot by a Cleveland police officer in 2014, the New York Times reports. Career prosecutors asked in 2017 to use a grand jury to gather evidence. Supervisors let the request languish for two years before denying permission in August 2019, essentially ending the inquiry. More than a year later, DOJ has yet to take the bureaucratic steps to close the case, like completing a draft memo explaining why it declined to indict anyone. It has not told the Rice family or the public that it will not charge the police officer. Subodh Chandra, a former federal prosecutor representing the Rice family, said “The federal investigation was [Rice’s mother’s] last hope for justice. Accountability was so important to her and her family.”
Rice’s killing became a touchstone in the national debate over race and policing and prompted protests. The prospect of bringing a federal case against Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot him, was seen as challenging because prosecutors would need to prove that he had intentionally violated Tamir’s civil rights. His pellet gun looked real, a 911 dispatcher had failed to relay that it might have been a toy wielded by a juvenile, and Loehmann shot him immediately upon arriving. The investigation stagnated in the final year of the Obama administration. State prosecutors have broader latitude to charge police officers based on lower standards of proof, but in 2015, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor said a grand jury, on his recommendation, would not charge Loehmann. Cleveland agreed in 2016 to pay $6 million to the Rice family to settle a lawsuit, and Loehmann was fired in 2017.