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Justice Department Declines To Prosecute Cleveland Officers In Death Of Tamir Rice

The U.S. Department of Justice will not charge any of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, a Black 12-year-old boy who was killed by police in Cleveland in 2014. The department has closed its investigation.

The Justice Department announced it found insufficient evidence to "support federal criminal charges against Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback."

In a statement released Tuesday, the department said it notified Rice's family attorneys about the decision on Monday "and today sent a letter to Mr. Rice's family explaining the findings of the investigation and reasons for the decision."

Video footage of the killing, which happened in daylight on Nov. 22, 2014, shows the child was shot within two seconds of the police arriving at the scene. Loehmann, who fired two bullets into Rice, and Garmback allege they believed he was carrying a gun. In fact, the boy was playing with a toy air pellet gun near a playground at a city recreation center.

The officers were responding to a 911 call during which the caller said there was a man — "probably a juvenile" — pointing a gun — "probably fake" — at people on the playground. However, the dispatcher failed to relay to the responding officers the fact that the subject of the call was likely a child with a toy.

Rice died early the next morning at a Cleveland hospital.

Outrage over the boy's death, which followed that of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police in July 2014 and Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Mo., that August, was a leading narrative in the nascent Black Lives Matter movement that has emerged as a national call for police reform.

There were no prosecutions in the case. In December 2015, a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against Loehmann and Garmback.

In its statement Tuesday, the Justice Department said the officers "repeatedly and consistently stated that Officer Loehmann gave Tamir multiple commands to show his hands before shooting, and both officers repeatedly and consistently said that they saw Tamir reaching for his gun."

"Based on this evidence and the high burdens of the applicable federal laws, career prosecutors have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Tamir did not reach for his toy gun; thus, there is insufficient evidence to establish that Officer Loehmann acted unreasonably under the circumstances," the department said.

The statement noted Loehmann and Garmback were the only two witnesses in the near vicinity of the shooting.

Loehmann was fired nearly three years after Rice's death for lying on his application to the Cleveland police.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.