This news only broke just this morning but it was pretty much expected by most observers. In the case of the tragic death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, the city has agreed to an out of court, $6M settlement with the boy’s family. (CNN)
The city of Cleveland will pay $6 million to settle the federal lawsuit filed by the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed by police gunfire while he held a pellet gun, according to a settlement announced Monday in U.S. District Court.
According to terms of the settlement, the city acknowledges no fault in Tamir’s November 2014 death.
Officer Timothy Loehmann, a trainee, shot Tamir moments after arriving in response to a call. The boy was pulling out what was later found to be a toy gun when he was shot.
At first glance, readers might think there is some similarity between this case and that of the huge settlement paid to the family of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. In reality, though, they are quite different scenarios. Baltimore messed up majorly by handing over that money in the way they did, particularly in terms of the timing. The criminal trials in the Freddie Gray case are only just underway and the jury pool will no doubt be aware of an action by City Hall which looked like an admission of guilt.
In Cleveland, the settlement includes a statement that the city acknowledges no fault in Rice’s death. Further, the criminal aspect of the legal process is essentially ended. After a lengthy investigation, a grand jury has already declined to indict the officers involved in the incident and absent an entirely biased jury pool, the city would have been highly unlikely to obtain a conviction on any serious charges.
So why make the payment? The fact that this incident was a tidal wave of “human error, mistakes and communications,” as the city prosecutor said, doesn’t make it any less tragic. A 12 year old boy waving a pellet gun around near a playground certainly shouldn’t wind up losing his life, even if such actions were dangerously foolhardy in the current social climate. The officers who responded to the report of an armed person pointing a gun at passing traffic were clearly prepared for a worst case scenario when they arrived and wound up reacting to a threat which didn’t exist. Had the dispatcher given all of the available information to the officers before they rolled up at the park this might not have happened, but it did… and Tamir Rice is dead.
With all of that in mind it’s likely not just prudent from a legal standpoint, but a good move in terms of community relations for the city to offer some sort of compensation in this form. Fighting the civil suit tooth and claw would make the administration look heartless and there’s no assurance they would have prevailed in the suit anyway. The bar is set lower for such civil actions and a sufficiently sympathetic jury might have found in the family’s favor for a much larger settlement. If this brings some closure to the entire situation it’s probably for the best.