Tamir Rice was executed on November 22, 2014. The 12-year-old was mowed down by bullets fired by Cleveland cop Timothy Loehmann in an encounter lasting less than two seconds. Yet, it remains in stasis, awaiting the promise of Cleveland officials to make a decision about whether to prosecute Loehmann, Rice’s killer, and his partner, Frank Garmback. It’s too long. Much too long. Absurdly too long.
Tired of waiting, and distrustful of the eventual outcome regardless, “community leaders,” whoever that may be, have decided to invoke an archaic procedural backdoor to initiate prosecution. Section 2935.09 of the Ohio Revised Statutes provides:
(B) In . . . order to cause the arrest or prosecution of a person charged with committing an offense in this state, a peace officer or a private citizen having knowledge of the facts shall comply with this section.
(D) A private citizen having knowledge of the facts who seeks to cause an arrest or prosecution under this section may file an affidavit charging the offense committed with a reviewing official for the purpose of review to determine if a complaint should be filed by the prosecuting attorney or attorney charged by law with the prosecution of offenses in the court or before the magistrate. A private citizen may file an affidavit charging the offense committed with the clerk of a court of record . . ..
And apparently, that’s exactly what happened.
And for a group of community leaders in the Forest City, that’s too long to wait for prosecutors to charge the officers involved in the shooting. Instead, they went to a municipal court judge Tuesday morning and asked him to issue a warrant for the officers on charges of murder, aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty.
Resist the urge to applaud the initiative of these “community leaders,” who have chosen to wait no longer, but take matters into their own hands. While the refusal to sit by helplessly and wait for some official announcement about the future is admirable, especially given how poorly recent outcomes have proven when the shooter wears a badge, the efficacy of this tactic is hardly clear.
This law isn’t merely rarely used, but an orphan. It lacks procedures to give it teeth. Assuming the complaint is found adequate by a “reviewing official,” there is no mandate that an official complaint be drawn, that a warrant of arrest be issued, that anyone with the authority to accomplish an arrest do so, or that the prosecuting attorney move the prosecution to indictment.
In other words, it’s a procedural dead end. Sure, a prosecuting attorney, in light of the complaint, can choose to act upon it, thus putting the force of his office behind the charge, but that would be his choice. Just as it’s his choice now to pursue a prosecution. A choice that has yet to be exercised.
Then there is a small glitch in the law, requiring the filing of an affidavit by a “private citizen having knowledge of the facts.” In the usual course of affairs, this would likely refer to an eyewitness, someone who perceived “the facts” in person, and thus brings a level of knowledge and credibility to the forefront. But that’s not what is happening here.
These “community leaders” weren’t present at the Cudell Recreation Center when Tamir Rice died. They possess no greater knowledge of the facts than anyone else who has watched the video, heard the 911 call and paid attention to the facts as they emerged. Is this sufficient to constitute “knowledge of the facts,” or is this a publicity stunt?
The Rev. Jawanza K. Colvin, who signed affidavits seeking charges of murder and manslaughter, said: “We have the video, and having witnessed it, you can see that it took two seconds for the officers to shoot a 12-year-old boy who showed no malicious intent or aggressive behavior. There is certainly reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed.”
Including the word “certainly” doesn’t make Rev. Colvin’s assessment valid, or his watching the video any more worthwhile than yours or mine. Or the prosecutor’s.
The police union, shockingly, isn’t impressed with this initiative (Trigger Warning: Insufferable irony ahead).
Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association called the move a dangerous and selfish attempt to “hijack rule of law.”
“It is very sad how miserable the lives of these self appointed activists, civil rights leaders, and clergy must be,” Loomis said. “I can’t imagine being so very consumed with anger and hatred.”
I won’t even swing at this softball, as it’s beneath me. But if the best Loomis could come up with is “hijacking the law” when they’ve done exactly the opposite, his Glock is unloaded.
That said, is all this a charade by a handful of self-appointed activists who have decided that they are going to push an envelope if no one else is doing so at the pace and in the manner they believe it ought to be done? Not necessarily.
One of the most lethal weapons in the official arsenal is delay. In the immediate aftermath of a horrible tragedy, everyone is up in arms, outraged, by the incident. Over time, the anger fades, and it becomes a distant memory. New outrages happen, and human beings only have a limited capacity for outrage. We move on to the new ones and condemn the old ones to obscurity.
While this backdoor to prosecution isn’t likely, on its own, to produce an arrest or indictment, what it accomplishes is keeping the memory of Tamir Rice’s execution alive, on the front burner for both the public and Cleveland officials. And if it does that, if it doesn’t let the execution of a 12-year-old black boy fall into the memory hole of unresolved tragedies, then it has done something important and valuable. Now, you can applaud.