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Officer Acted 'Reasonably' In Shooting Of Tamir Rice, 2 Experts Say

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two experts have offered their findings on the killing of Tamir Rice. Both reports say a police officer acted reasonably when he fatally shot the 12-year-old. Prosecutors say this is not the final word on the case. That belongs to a grand jury, which will make its decision about criminal charges if any. We're going to talk about this with Nick Castele of member station WCPN, who's been covering this story. Good morning.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: There have been so many high-profile shootings across the country that I feel like we need to remind people exactly which one this is. What happened?

CASTELE: Sure. In November of last year, Tamir Rice, who was an African-American 12-year-old, was playing with an air gun at a city park in Cleveland. Somebody saw this and called 911, saying at first he wasn't sure if the gun was real or not, then later saying he thought it was probably fake. That level of detail wasn't relayed to police though. And what happened next was all caught on security video. Police arrive at the scene. They pull up on the grass within feet of Tamir. In the video, Tamir is seen moving his hands - investigators later said it was to pull up an outer garment he was wearing. Meanwhile, Officer Timothy Loehmann, a white police officer, emerges from the passenger side of the police cruiser, and within two seconds, Loehmann fires, hitting Tamir in the abdomen. It was a few seconds - or a few minutes later before an FBI agent arrived at the scene and performed first aid. But Tamir later died in a hospital.

INSKEEP: OK, so now these experts were brought in to investigate the case. Who were they exactly, and what did they say?

CASTELE: Sure. The county sheriff investigated this case and in late spring turned it over to county prosecutors. And they turned over the investigative file to two experts to ask for their opinions on the case. One is a former FBI agent who's offered training and instruction in a number of areas, including use of deadly force. The other is a prosecutor in Colorado. This prosecutor has investigated shootings by police in Denver. Both of them concluded that the shooting was, in their opinion, reasonable within the law. The basis of their arguments was that Officer Loehmann, they say, reasonably believed Tamir to be a threat. And they say what the law instructs is to weigh the officer's perception of a threat at the time of the use of force rather than in hindsight. For instance, police have been criticized for pulling up so close to Tamir rather than handling the situation from a distance. One of these reports called that Monday-morning quarterbacking.

INSKEEP: Well, we've just got a few seconds here, but I want to understand this. Releasing these reports obviously has a public relations effect. You're telling the public that outside experts have this view of the shooting. But I'd like to know, does this also affect the grand jury in some way? For example, did they get these reports to look at?

CASTELE: Right. This is all part of the evidence that'll be turned over to the grand jury. And like you said, there's a public relations element, too. People are now wondering will there be an indictment in this case? An attorney for the family spoke up on Saturday. He called this a whitewash. He accused prosecutors of enlisting experts favorable to law enforcement. He said prosecutors were trying to avoid accountability for police. He said police rushed in and fired quickly without assessing the situation first and argued a reasonable juror could find those actions by police unreasonable.

INSKEEP: OK, Nick, thanks very much.

CASTELE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Nick Castele of our member station WCPN. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.