Posted on September 13, 2020
A former Cleveland patrol officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy whose death in 2014 intensified national outrage over the killing of unarmed black men and boys, has been hired by a police department in a small Ohio village.
The Bellaire Police Department, which patrols a community of about 4,000 just opposite the Ohio River from West Virginia, announced on Friday that the officer, Timothy Loehmann, had joined the force in a part-time position. The department’s chief said he had no concerns about hiring Officer Loehmann, who was not charged in Tamir’s death but who was fired last year after a Cleveland Police Department investigation into the shooting uncovered that he had lied on his job application.
“He was cleared of any and all wrongdoing,” the Bellaire police chief, Richard Flanagan, told The Times Leader of Martins Ferry, Ohio, adding that it was unfair to “crucify” the officer. “It’s over and done with.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast on Monday, Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, said she had a visceral response to the news — “a feeling of numbness through my whole body” — and questioned the decision.
“How could anyone even consider putting him on a police force?” she said. “That police chief is putting his own people in danger.”
The Tamir Rice Foundation also encouraged followers on Facebook to call village officials to demand that the offer be rescinded.
Officer Loehmann, Chief Flanagan and the village’s mayor, Vince DiFabrizio, did not return requests for comment on Monday morning. A Village Council member said that he first learned about the hiring of Officer Loehmann in the local newspaper and that he wanted to hear the chief’s explanation for his decision at the next Council meeting.
“He has the right to hire whoever he wants,” the councilman, Jerry Fisher, said in an interview on Monday. “On social media, you get pros and cons. I don’t know until I hear what the chief has to say.”
But in Bellaire and beyond, the Police Department was quickly criticized for employing the officer, whose actions in November 2014 set off national protests about the use of force by white law enforcement officers against unarmed African-Americans.
Owens L. Brown, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. chapter in Wheeling, W. Va., across the river from Bellaire, said he was not surprised that a police department in the area would hire Officer Loehmann. (Bellaire does not have its own N.A.A.C.P. chapter, Mr. Brown said.) More than 93 percent of the people who live in the metropolitan area that includes Wheeling and Bellaire are white, according to the census.
“It’s a travesty that they are willing to hire this person and goes to show that there is a lack of caring,” Mr. Brown said on Monday. “It may be par for the course for some of the attitudes here from the police.”
A camera that captured Tamir’s killing showed that Officer Loehmann stepped out of the passenger side of a patrol car and within seconds opened fire on Tamir, who was playing with a pellet gun, at a park. Officer Loehmann, who was responding to a 911 call about “a guy in here with a pistol,” claimed that he feared for his life when he saw the pellet gun.
The officer who was driving the car, Frank Garmback, was suspended for five days.
The 911 operator who took the call was also suspended after an investigation found that she did not relay to the responding officers the caller’s belief that Tamir was “probably a juvenile” and that the weapon was “probably fake.”
The shooting came amid a string of high-profile killings of black people by the police, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., in 2016. No officers were charged in those shootings, either.
Beyond the killing of Tamir, there have also been general questions about Officer Loehmann’s fitness to be a police officer. He joined the Cleveland Police Department after he had resigned from another Ohio police department, which noted in his personnel file that he showed a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training.
On Friday, Chief Flanagan announced that he had also hired another part-time officer: Eric Smith, who was suspended in April as the police chief in Bethesda, Ohio, and is under investigation by the Ohio attorney general’s office for alleged misuse of a state criminal justice database.
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