Union: Police not told boy’s gun might be fake

CLEVELAND (AP) — A dispatcher didn’t tell officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy last month that the gun might not be real or that the person might be a child, a Cleveland police union official said Friday.

Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Jeff Follmer told The Associated Press in an interview that officers had no way of knowing that Tamir Rice was carrying an airsoft gun, which shoots nonlethal plastic pellets, when a rookie cop shot him in the abdomen Nov. 22. Follmer added that the dispatcher followed protocol when sending the officers on what police call a “gun run.”

Surveillance video released by police shows Tamir being shot within 2 seconds of the patrol car stopping near him. In that time, Officer Timothy Loehmann told the boy to put his hands up, but he didn’t, according to police brass and Follmer. Tamir had nearly pulled the gun out of his waistband when Loehmann shot him, Follmer said.

The man who had called 911 told dispatchers someone was pointing a pistol that was “probably fake” and scaring everyone. The caller also said the person was probably a child.

Officer Frank Garmback pulled into the park after seeing Tamir at a distance and slammed on the brakes when Tamir did not run, as they had expected, Follmer said. That caused the car to slide on the slick grass and stop within a few feet of the boy, Follmer said.

Garmback and Loehmann had discussed tactics while approaching the park, Follmer said. Garmback was Loehmann’s field training officer that day.

The officers also thought they were confronting someone around 20 years old, not 12, Follmer said. They didn’t learn Tamir’s age until later in the day.

“In their mindset, they’re still thinking it’s an older male, not a 12-year-old kid,” Follmer said. “That’s the reality. That’s what they see right there, right then.”

An autopsy released Friday said Tamir was 5 feet 7 and weighed 195 pounds. He was shot once in the abdomen and the bullet damaged a major vein and his intestines, the Cuyahoga County medical examiner concluded in labeling the death a homicide.

A grand jury will consider whether criminal charges are merited. The officers are on paid administrative leave.

Loehmann joined the Cleveland police in March after spending six months in 2012 with the police department in suburban Independence. Personnel files released Wednesday showed police supervisors in Independence decided he lacked the maturity needed to work in their department. A letter in his file said there was a pattern of a lack of discretion and of not following instructions.

Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, said at a news conference this week that a friend had given Tamir the airsoft gun. The guns are sold with an orange tip that is supposed to distinguish them from an actual firearm. There was no orange tip on Tamir’s gun.

A federal lawsuit filed by the boy’s family against the city and police said it took four minutes before anyone gave Tamir medical treatment. The autopsy did not say how long it took for someone to provide aid. The lawsuit also said the two officers acted recklessly.

Samaria Rice said Loehmann should be convicted of a crime. Loehmann’s father has said his son had no choice but to shoot because he thought the gun was real.

Several peaceful protests have taken place in Cleveland since the shooting, which occurred during a time when police-involved deaths have drawn national attention. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department released its finding from a 20-month investigation of Cleveland police that found a pattern and practice of officers using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights.

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