By Adam Ferrise
The city of Cleveland on Tuesday fired the rookie police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, more than two and a half years after the boy's death.
Timothy Loehmann's ouster from the department was not the result of November 2014 killing the child, but for his failure to disclose the fact that he was asked to resign from the Independence Police Department after a supervisor raised concerns about his ability to be an effective police officer.
In addition to firing Loehmann, Cleveland Public Safety Director Michael McGrath also handed down a 10-day suspension for officer Frank Garmback for putting Loehmann in danger for driving his partner within feet of the boy who had an airsoft replica pistol tucked in his waistband. Garmback will begin serving his suspension on Wednesday.
"There's a 12-year-old kid dead," Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said. "People on both sides are going to say it wasn't enough, it was too much. But we have to be fair and objective to everyone involved in the process. We believe we've come to a fair conclusion through this process."
The firing brought some sense of closure to Tamir's mother Samaria Rice, who addressed reporters shortly after McGrath's announcement. Rice, who settled a civil lawsuit against the city and the police department for a record $6 million, said she is disappointed that Loehmann's ouster came from what amounts to an omission on a job application instead of killing her son.
Rice said she was disappointed that Garmback wasn't fired.
"I'm relieved Loehmann was fired." Rice said." "He should have never been a police officer to begin with."
A grand jury in December 2015 declined to indict both Loehmann and Garmback for their respective roles in Tamir's death. Then Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty recommended that the grand jury not charge the officers after a series of experts hired by his office deemed the shooting "objectively reasonable."
Two others have been disciplined in the case: the 911 call taker, Constance Hollinger, and officer William Cunningham, who was working was working off-duty at the Cudell Recreation Center without permission. He received a two-day suspension without pay.
Hollinger was suspended eight days without pay for failing to relay critical information to Beth Mandl, a dispatcher who sent Garmback and Loehmann to the rec center.
Hollinger did not tell Mandl that the 911 caller told her that Tamir was "probably a child" and that that the airsoft gun he had was "probably fake." Mandl told Garmback and Loehmann to investigate a report of a "guy with a gun" scaring people outside the center.
Mandl would later resign.
The city took some 30 months to issue the discipline because they waited for the criminal investigation and the civil lawsuit to be completed, Williams said.
The union that represents both police officers filed an appeal of the discipline within hours of McGrath's announcement. Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Steve Loomis, whose public statements about Tamir's death often drew the ire of civil-rights leaders, said he is confident that an arbitrator will overturn the discipline.
"This is nothing but a political witch hunt," Loomis said. "We're not going to stand for it. They didn't do anything wrong."
Loomis began gearing up to fight the disciplinary actions hours after they were levied, and said he hoped to have the appeal before an arbitrator by the end of the summer. He cited the report done by a review panel of city officials assembled by Williams with the goal of recommending discipline in the case.
The Critical Incident Review Committee, which took the place of a normal internal affairs investigation, found that neither officer violated any police policies and recommended no discipline.
Williams said after he got the report, he asked for a review of Loehmann's employment background. That turned up information on his departure from the Independence Police Department that showed he was forced to resign after a series of incidents that led his supervisors to believe he was unfit to be a police officer.
Loomis said Loehmann never intended to lie on his application. He said the officer ran out of room on the application to explain how he left the department and that he passed a lie detector test prior to being hired. The city has since changed its policy to review all personnel files for prospective employees who were police officers in other cities.
Williams said Loehmann was on his probationary period when the shooting happened, but Loomis disputed that. Loomis said Loehmann was a full officer who has the protection of the union.
CPPA attorney Henry Hilow said if Loehmann was trying to hide something, he could have left Independence off his application entirely.
"They had to resurrect the Independence personnel file because they had nothing on him," Hilow said.
Rice's attorney Subodh Chandra said he's now worried that the discipline levied against them won't withstand an appeal to an arbitrator by the CPPA. Chandra said the city has a poor track record in arbitration cases.
The federal consent decree monitor said it appeared arbitrators overturn about two out of three cases involving officer discipline.
"We still need accountability," Rice said. "We want to make sure that he never gets re-hired again through the next process that they take."
Williams said he expects the discipline to survive any appeals.
"We have every expectation that the decision will stick," Williams said. "We went through a two-year process in making these decisions, so we expect them to be upheld."
(c)2017 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland