The Almost Probable Murder of Tamir Rice
June 12, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — What was Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald Adrine to do? On his plate landed one of the hottest properties a lower court judge would ever get, and no matter how he sliced it, his decision would be unpalatable to someone. Yet, Judge Adrine had no choice but to decide the citizens’ request to charge a couple of cops with the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Judge Adrine found that probable cause existed.
A judge in Ohio said on Thursday he had found probable cause to charge a police officer with murder for the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year.
Judge Ronald Adrine of the Cleveland municipal court said there were grounds to prosecute officer Timothy Loehmann with murder, manslaughter, reckless homicide and negligent homicide.
Adrine also found there was probable cause for a charge of negligent homicide against officer Frank Garmback, Loehmann’s partner, who was present when Tamir was shot at a park on 22 November while holding a pellet gun.
Huge win? Well, certainly not a loss, but hardly the outcome that they hoped would be achieved. The problem isn’t with Judge Adrine’s decision, which reached the conclusion community activists hoped he would, but with the fact that the law under which they sought a ruling was, at best, a legal dead end.
By holding that probable cause existed, Judge Adrine did all that the community activists could ask of him. And indeed, perhaps he did more, as it would have been remarkably easy, not to mention likely a more legally sound decision, had he rejected their application based upon their failure to satisfy the “knowledge of the facts” prong of the law.
The affidavits submitted were based on having watched the video of Tamir Rice’s murder. Did they have knowledge of what they saw on the video? Well, yes, they did, but no more so than anyone else who watched the video. Is that really “knowledge of the facts” as contemplated by the law?
Judge Adrine found it sufficient, but that’s a questionable call. It could very easily have gone the other way, and no one would have challenged the judge for having concluded that watching a video viewed by millions of people isn’t, in itself, sufficient to petition the court. It gave the judge an easy out.
Yet, the judge chose not to avail himself of the out, and instead get down in the weeds on the far more difficult, far more controversial, substantive aspect of the issue before him: based on the video alone, was there probable cause to believe that Loehmann murdered Tamir.
Much to the consternation of anyone siding with the cops, the judge did that. But he did not do so without the requisite caveats, that while he can reach a determination based on what is before him, it is not conclusive since the court does not have other, related evidence or argument before it (such as the police officer’s explanation as to why he shot and why he drove the zone car so close to Tamir rather than maintain a safer distance), plus the procedural quandary that the judge lacked the authority to issue an arrest warrant.
As was clear before Judge Adrine’s decision, even this outcome was not going to compel the Cuyahoga District Attorney to file a complaint against the officers, seek an arrest warrant or empanel a grand jury to present evidence to obtain an indictment. These things, necessary to achieve a prosecution of the cops, were outside the court’s authority, as Judge Adrine made painfully clear.
Yet, while the win may be hollow in the sense that the decision, standing alone, does nothing to commence a prosecution more than 200 days after a two second murder, it may serve as more than a mere moral victory.
First, we’ve got Tamir Rice’s name, his memory, on our minds. It’s so easy to forget that a killing that outraged us last November remains unaddressed by the prosecution many months later. But the public, the media, and therefore the district attorney, remains focused, concerned about what will happen with the prosecution of the cops responsible for Tamir’s death.
Second, with the judge’s decision that probable cause exists, at least based on the video, for the murder of Tamir, the probability is greatly reduced that some facile story about how we “just don’t get it” when we watch the video will suffice to sweep this killing under the rug. It’s now certain that, absent some strong evidence or justification to the contrary, there are grounds to prosecute for murder. Whatever the Cuyahoga District Attorney ultimately decides to do, it will have to square it with Judge Adrine’s finding, at least if it wants to pass muster with the public outrage over Tamir’s death.
And that’s no small thing. Even though use of this peculiar public procedure hasn’t proven to be effective in forcing a prosecution, it has served to keep the murder of Tamir Rice in the public eye. Not a bad thing in itself.