CLEVELAND (AP) — A Cleveland officer was less than 10 feet away when he fatally shot a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun near a playground, and video of the shooting is clear about what happened, police said Monday.
The boy was confronted Saturday by officers responding to a 911 call about a male who appeared to be pulling a gun in and out of his pants.
The 911 caller said the gun was “probably fake,” then added, “I don’t know if it’s real or not.” Deputy Chief Edward Tomba said Monday that he didn’t know whether a dispatcher shared that information with responding officers.
The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association has said the officers weren’t told the caller thought the gun might be fake.
Police say Tamir Rice, who died Sunday, had an “airsoft” gun that appeared indistinguishable from a real firearm. Airsoft guns fire spherical plastic pellets and have orange tips to show they aren’t real firearms, but police said the one the boy had didn’t have the bright safety indicator.
Authorities said the boy was told to raise his hands and was shot when he pulled the pellet gun from his waistband, though he hadn’t pointed it at police or made verbal threats.
“Our officers at times are required to make critical decisions in a split second,” Chief Calvin Williams said. “Unfortunately this is one of those times.”
Tomba said surveillance video of the shooting is “very clear” about what occurred, but he wouldn’t discuss details of what it shows.
People representing the boy’s family viewed the video Monday, but police didn’t release it publicly because it is considered evidence and because they want to be sensitive to the family, the community and the officer, who is distraught, officials said.
The shooting has led to an investigation of the officer’s use of force. It also contributed to a state lawmaker’s plan to propose legislation requiring all BB guns, air rifles and airsoft guns sold in Ohio to be brightly colored or have prominent fluorescent strips.
The two officers involved in the shooting were put on administrative leave under standard procedure. Police haven’t publicly identified them.
Once the investigation is complete, the case will be presented to a grand jury to decide whether any criminal charges should be brought, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said.
An attorney for the boy’s family, Timothy Kucharski, has said Tamir went to the park with friends Saturday afternoon, but he did not know the details of what led to his shooting. Kucharski said he wants to talk to witnesses himself and get more facts.
The Cleveland case is similar to one last year in northern California.
In that case, prosecutors didn’t file criminal charges against a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun the officer mistook for an assault rifle. That Santa Rosa boy’s parents were outraged by the decision.
In Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson said investigators and other officials are trying to be as transparent as possible to ensure the public can trust the outcome.
Asked at a news conference to comment about the shooting with the context of the pending grand jury decision about the police-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Jackson replied: “Whether there was Ferguson down there or not doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that it happened in Cleveland, and it happened to a child.”
Cleveland’s website was hacked amid the investigation. The city couldn’t confirm who shut down the site and didn’t receive direct information about that, but officials were aware of a YouTube video purporting to be from the hacker collective Anonymous that references website shutdowns and the shooting, city spokesman Daniel Ball said. He said extra security measures are being added before the website is restored.
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