Rice was throwing snowballs and playing with a toy pellet gun in a Cleveland park on November 22, 2014, when a police car rolled into the snowy field. Within two seconds of getting out of his squad car, officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed the 12-year-old. The officer has claimed he thought the pellet gun was a real firearm.
Nearly a year later, on October 10, officials released two independent investigations from a Colorado prosecutor and an FBI supervisory agent that concluded that the shooting was justified, arguing that any reasonable officer placed in the same scenario could have concluded deadly force was necessary. But this is based on a very loose legal standard: The question is not whether the situation could have been avoided, but rather if it was reasonable for Loehmann to perceive a threat once the squad car parked right in front of Rice and saw the boy with a gun that officers thought was an actual firearm.
But critics, including Rice’s family, have blasted the reports, arguing that it’s absurd that an officer would have to resort to force within two seconds of detecting someone with a toy gun — especially in a state where it’s legal to openly carry real guns. They argue the situation could have been handled more calmly and carefully — perhaps by parking the car in another location and approaching Rice more slowly. From this point of view, the argument isn’t so much whether Loehmann’s actions were legally justified once he was right in front of Rice, but whether the scenario could have been avoided with better tactics, training, and protocol.
Whether Loehmann was in the right will be a matter of legal and public debate in the next few months and perhaps years. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty will present evidence on the case to a grand jury. The jurors will then decide whether to file charges against Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, who drove the squad car during the shooting.