The Justice Department effectively ceased its civil rights investigation into the 2014 police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy in Cleveland, reported The New York Times.
The DOJ brought to a halt its probe last year by blocking prosecutors from using a grand jury to investigate, per the Times. The department has not told Rice’s family it wouldn’t be bringing charges in the case, which technically remains open on the books, but has not advanced.
A Justice Department official told HuffPost that the case remains under review, and said that Attorney General William Barr never weighed in on the case.
Officer Timothy Loehmann shot Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a playground, mere seconds after arriving at the scene. In late 2015, the county prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to charge Loehmann with any crime.
The Justice Department said at the time that it would “continue our independent review” of the case — but has been largely silent since.
Subodh Chandra, a lawyer representing the Rice family, told the Times that the federal investigation had been the family’s “last hope for justice.”
The Government Accountability Project confirmed Thursday that it had been told last week by the Justice Department inspector general that his office would not be investigating its whistleblower complaint alleging that Tamir Rice’s case had been mishandled.
Federal civil rights laws make it difficult to charge police officers who shoot and kill people because the Justice Department must be able to prove that an officer used excessive force willingly and knew that doing so was wrong. Proving an officer’s intent is a particularly difficult hurdle to overcome, especially when officers know exactly what to say — that they were afraid for their life — to justify a shooting.
Under Trump, the Justice Department has continued bringing individual criminal cases against law enforcement officers when there’s extensive evidence of excessive use of force. Those cases frequently involve victims who were already restrained when they were assaulted, and are often brought against corrections officers.
More broadly, the Trump administration has almost entirely ended “pattern or practice” investigations that identify systemic issues and routine unconstitutional behavior within local law enforcement agencies.
Under the Obama administration, those types of broad investigations have forced change and helped cities overcome embedded political obstacles standing in the way of police reform. The unit within the Civil Rights Division that is charged with conducting such investigations has been cut nearly in half.
The Trump administration launched just one police pattern or practice investigation: a probe of a troubled narcotics unit in the Springfield, Massachusetts, police department that found officers “repeatedly punch[ed] individuals in the face unnecessarily” and used “excessive force without accountability.”
As was the case in many police department investigations launched by DOJ during the Obama administration, federal investigators found a number of instances of “untruthful reporting” by officers and said it was “not uncommon for Narcotics Bureau officers to write false or incomplete narratives that justify their uses of force.”