A 12-year-old boy who was shot twice by police after grabbing what turned out to be a replica gun died from his wounds on Sunday, a day after officers responded to a 911 call about someone waving a “probably fake” gun at a playground.
Deputy police chief Ed Tomba said one officer fired twice after the boy pulled the fake weapon – which was lacking an orange safety indicator usually found on the muzzle – from his waistband. Tomba said the boy had not pointed the gun at police. The boy did not make any verbal threats but grabbed the replica handgun after being told to raise his hands, Tomba said.
“That’s when the officer fired,” he said.
The Cuyahoga County medical examiner identified the boy as Tamir Rice. An attorney for his family, Timothy Kucharski, said the boy went to the park with friends on Saturday afternoon, but he did not know the details of what led to the shooting.
“I don’t want to make a rush to judgment,” he said.
The police department is investigating the shooting and both officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure. The county prosecutor’s office also is investigating.
Kucharski said he wanted to talk to witnesses and get more facts. “We’re ultimately going to find out what happened,” he said.
Police said the weapon was an “airsoft” type replica that resembled a semi-automatic handgun. The orange safety indicator had been removed, police said.
A man who called 911 told dispatchers the boy was on a swing set and pointing a pistol that was “probably fake” and scaring everyone. The caller said the boy was pulling the gun in and out of his trousers.
“I don’t know if it’s real or not,” the caller said.
Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said the officers were not told the caller thought the gun might be fake. The officer called to the playground outside a city recreation center saw the pistol sitting on a table or bench, and watched the boy grab it and put it in his waistband, Follmer said.
Cleveland police have been under increased scrutiny in the last few years. The US Justice Department has been conducting an investigation of its pursuit and use of force practices. Federal officials said in March 2013 their investigation would go beyond a high-profile car chase that ended with officers firing 137 shots and two deaths.
Last week, it was announced that relatives of the two people killed in the 2012 chase will split a $3m settlement from the city of Cleveland. The families filed a lawsuit after 43-year-old Timothy Russell and 30-year-old Malissa Williams were killed by police after a 20-mile pursuit that involved 62 police cruisers and more than 100 officers. Six police officers involved in the chase were indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury.
The department changed its pursuit policy after the chase, limiting when and how long patrol cars can chase suspects.