File this one under the category of, “Wait. They can do that?”
The case of the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland by officers responding to reports of a male pointing a handgun at cars has dragged on for more than six months now. It’s obviously a complicated one and the authorities have been moving forward at a pace which has left at least some community leaders frustrated. (In the case of the family, this is understandable.) But rather than waiting to find out the final disposition through the normal channels, some community leaders have taken an unusual step: they’re going directly to a judge and asking for an arrest warrant for at least one of the cops involved. (From Business Insider.)
Cleveland, Ohio residents are invoking an obscure law to bypass prosecutors and ask a judge directly to press charges against officers involved in the deadly shooting of a 12-year-old boy, The New York Times reports.
Community leaders of Cleveland gave The Times copies of six affidavits they plan to file on Tuesday listing the crimes they say occurred, according to The Times. Ohio is one of just a few states that let residents request such charges directly, The Times noted.
The 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, was shot in November when officers saw him holding a gun that turned out to be a toy. Like several other recent high-profile police shootings, the shooting was caught on tape.
Despite that tape, citizens doubt that prosecutors will seek the indictment themselves, The Times noted. The recent precedent has not been great for indictments against officers who kill people. In the case of Eric Garner, the New York man who died after being put in a police chokehold, there was also a disturbing video. But that case did not result in an indictment, let alone a conviction.
After a cursory search, it doesn’t look like this mechanism is on the books in New York and it’s not all that common around the rest of the nation. Short sheeting the District Attorney’s office and, potentially, the grand jury system sounds like a plan which is ripe for abuse and nuisance suits, but the judge at least has discretion to accept or deny the request. The New York Times explains in a bit more detail.
By going directly to a judge, community leaders are trying to circumvent that process. Ohio law allows anyone with “knowledge of the facts” to file a court affidavit and ask a judge to issue an arrest warrant. If approved, the arrest would be followed by a public hearing, and community members said that was preferable to allowing prosecutors to make the decision in secret.
“Here we are taking some control of the process as citizens,” Mr. Madison said. “We are going to participate without even changing the law.”
I have to wonder how a judge is supposed to respond to a filing such as this when the District Attorney’s office hasn’t even finished up with the grand jury and come back with go or no-go decision yet. True, the length of time it’s taking might be a mitigating factor and a judge with a particular mindset might be inclined to accept the request just to jump start the process, but that seems risky as well. These guys all have to work together, so a judge that doesn’t give the DA’s office the time to do a thorough job may run into trouble further down the line.
The community leaders also seem to be ignoring the fact that the Cuyahoga County prosecutor who is working the Rice case is the same one who brought charges against Brelo. (And that case blew up in his face in the end, with no convictions against Brelo.) It’s not as if the family doesn’t have a prosecutor with a history of being willing to charge cops if there’s any question at all about what they did. This almost feels like they’re poking a stick in a hornet’s nest for no likely gain here.
The Tamir Rice case has been a horrible mess from the beginning. A dead child is not the outcome that anyone wants to see, which should go without saying. But given the radio traffic the cops were dealing with at the time and the lack of critical information received by them, their reactions upon charging onto the scene of what they believed was an armed shooter on the street seems unlikely to produce a conviction. The video is awful to watch, but the entire thing unfolded so quickly that a malevolent motive looks unlikely to emerge in court. And when the report involves what they seem to honestly have believed was a guy pointing a handgun at motorists, well… that’s not the sort of call where you sit around at a great distance and wait to see what he’s going to do.
It’s a tragedy, and there’s no denying that. But I’m guessing that the prosecutor is wrestling with the question of whether or not he could even make a viable case here. If he doesn’t do it, he’s facing the possibility of riots. If he brings the case but it falls apart in the eyes of the judge or jury, his position isn’t much improved. This one is just going to be a mess no matter what happens, I fear.