The investigation of a Cleveland police officer’s deadly shooting of a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun is being handed over to a county sheriff’s office in an attempt to make sure it’s evenhanded, the city’s mayor said.
The move, announced Friday, comes amid recent outside criticism of Cleveland police officers’ use of force in recent years.
The Cuyahoga County’s sheriff’s office will take over for the city and continue the probe into the Nov. 22 Cleveland playground shooting of Tamir Rice, who was carrying an airsoft gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets when a rookie officer fired on him.
“This decision to turn the investigation over was made to ensure that transparency and an extra layer of separation and impartiality were established,” Mayor Frank Jackson said in a statement. “I believe that the best way to ensure accountability in a use of force investigation is to have it completed by an outside agency.”
Surveillance video released by police shows Tamir being shot less than two seconds after the officer’s patrol car stopped near him. Officer Timothy Loehmann told Tamir to put his hands up, but the boy didn’t, according to police.
The black youth’s death at the hands of a white officer raised questions about how police treat blacks and has spurred protests.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer recently said officers had no way of knowing Tamir was carrying an airsoft gun that only looked like a real firearm.
Since the shooting, Cleveland police investigators have been collecting evidence and conducting interviews. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty’s office eventually will present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.
Tamir’s family has sued the city in federal court over the shooting, saying Loehmann and his partner acted recklessly when they confronted him.
Cleveland police have come under outside scrutiny within the last few months over other cases.
The U.S. Department of Justice in December released findings from a nearly two-year investigation of the police department. The review, which did not include Tamir’s shooting, concluded that officers use excessive and unnecessary force far too often.
City officials have been ordered to work with community leaders, the Department of Justice and others to create a police reform plan that a judge will approve and an independent monitor will oversee.
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