Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
Almost a year after the boy was shot by a Cleveland police officer, key questions remain.
Jaeah LeeOct. 11, 2015 7:17 PM
Activist Art McCoy holds a photo of Tamir Rice before a 2014 protest march at Cudell Park in Cleveland.
Update, 1:45 p.m. EDT: In the hours since two new investigations into the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice concluded that a Cleveland police officer's actions were "reasonable," outrage has spread on Twitter and protesters have taken to the streets. Some called on authorities to redefine what is legally "reasonable."
Activists in Cleveland and elsewhere saw the reports as a sign that it's unlikely Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann will face criminal charges for his actions. As demonstrations took place in cities such as Cleveland and Oakland, several high-profile figures weighed in:
Sending support to Tamir Rice's loved ones. Too many black families are mourning the loss of a child. We need to change that reality. -H
Meanwhile, a police union attorney for Frank Garmback, the officer who drove the squad car near Rice before Loehmann opened fire, told Mother Jones that Garmback has decided that he will not testify before the grand jury.
Garmback is still considering submitting a written statement to Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, according to his lawyer Michael Maloney.
"While we are not facing a strict deadline at the moment, it is clear we have to advise the prosecutor of our intentions fairly soon," Maloney said. He declined to comment further on questions about whether Loehmann would testify or submit a statement soon.
Late on Saturday night, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office released conclusions from three additional investigations into the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer at a Cleveland park last November.
Two of the reports, written by police use-of-force experts, determined that the actions of Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann, who fatally wounded Rice within a few seconds of arriving at the scene on November 22, were "objectively reasonable" under federal case law and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. A third investigation reconstructed the shooting scene at the Cudell Recreation Center and examined how quickly the police car was moving when it pulled up to Rice.
Here are the key takeaways from the reports, and questions that remain almost a year since Rice's death:
The fact that Rice was a kid, or that his gun turned out to be fake, are "irrelevant" in determining whether Loehmann's actions were reasonable under federal law. According to use of force experts S. Lamar Sims and Kimberly Crawford, the available evidence shows Loehmann could not have known at the time of the shooting that Rice was a boy with a toy gun. Therefore Loehmann acted reasonably—as defined by previous US Supreme Court decisions—when he fired his weapon at Rice, Sims and Crawford concluded. And while key details in the 911 call—that Rice was "probably a juvenile" waving a gun that was "probably fake"—were not relayed to the officers, they "cannot be considered," Crawford wrote.
Whether Loehmann and the officer who drove the squad car, Frank Garmback, used appropriate tactics also fell outside the scope of Sims and Crawford's investigations, they said. Garmback pulled the police vehicle to within several feet of Rice, and Loehmann fired shots within two seconds.
"To suggest that Officer Garmback should have stopped the car at another location is to engage in exactly the kind of 'Monday morning quarterbacking' the case law exhorts us to avoid," Sims wrote. While it could be argued that the officers escalated the situation "by entering the park and stopping their vehicle so close to a potentially armed subject," Crawford added, that speculation has "no place in determining the reasonableness of an officer's use of force."
The reports do not discuss the fact that Loehmann and Garmback did not administer first aid while Rice lay bleeding. Surveillance footage of the incident showed Loehmann and Garmback stood around for about four minutes without attempting to give any medical attention to Rice. When Rice's sister approached, Garmback tackled her to the ground. Later, an FBI agent arrived and began to tend to Rice's wound before an ambulance took him to a hospital. Rice died the next day.
A fundamental principle of policing is that once a threat has been eliminated and a scene secured, an officer's first priority is to aid an injured person, Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina studying policing, told Mother Jones in May. "At that point, the officer and his medical kit might be the only thing between the suspect and death," said Stoughton, who who previously served as a police officer in Florida for five years. "It's not only an ethical requirement, but almost certainly a departmental imperative to do what they can to save the life of the suspect. The failure to do that is really disturbing."
The officers still aren't talking to investigators. Both Loehmann and Garmback have declined to give statements to investigators or the county prosecutor, under the advice of their lawyers. In June, their attorney Michael Maloney told Mother Jones that the officers "have not ruled out the possibility" of providing a written statement to the prosecutor. They have not decided whether they will testify before the grand jury.
It's unclear whether Loehmann will face criminal charges. A total of four investigations have now been made public in the wake of Rice's death, none of which are intended to draw conclusions about whether officer Loehmann should be charged. As county prosecutor Timothy McGinty explains, all reports will be reviewed by a grand jury, which will then determine whether Loehmann will face criminal charges.
The officer who drove the car may face scrutiny, too. Thus far, the investigation into Rice's death has focused on Loehmann, and it remains unclear whether the actions of Garmback will warrant a separate criminal or departmental investigation.
Stoughton, the law enforcement expert, toldMother Jones, "It was a ludicrous way to approach a scene where you've been told that there is a person with a gun who has been aiming it at bystanders. I would expect the officers would park at a safe distance and walk up, using cover and concealment, and try to initiate communication at a distance. That's the 'three Cs' of tactical response."
It's unclear when a grand jury will take up the case. The new documents, along with the initial probe into the shooting led by the county sheriff's office, will be presented to a grand jury as it decides whether to indict Loehmann, McGinty said in Saturday's press release. McGinty's office declined to comment further on the grand jury process. It remains unclear whether a grand jury has been impaneled and when a hearing will take place.
The controversial science behind the 48-hour rule.
Jaeah LeeAug. 12, 2015 6:00 AM
Officers involved in the 2014 shooting of a homeless man in Albuquerque were told to wait two days before speaking with investigators.
Last Friday, in a courthouse in New Mexico, special prosecutor Randi McGinn asked police psychologist William Lewinski whether he advised investigators to wait several days before interviewing an officer involved in a shooting. McGinn was asking because two Albuquerque police officers shot and killed a homeless man on March 16, 2014, in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, and they had been told to wait two days before giving a statement. The lag in time seemed odd to McGinn, who is pursuing murder charges against the officers.
Lewinski, founder of the research group Force Science Institute, is a controversial figure among prosecutors like McGinn. Recently, he came under fire for publishing studies that critics said were not subject to peer review, and for using those studies in his work as an expert witness when testifying on behalf of officers involved in shootings. Lewinski responded to McGinn's question by saying, "That's what the professionals and the experts in law also state." He added that "if you can eliminate bias, memory aids such as walking through a scene, looking at video—the things that are currently used in the police practice—do enhance memory."
The same day McGinn was interviewing Lewinski in court, cops working one state away, in Arlington, Texas, were dealing with fallout from a police trainee's fatal shooting of 19-year-old Christian Taylor. Arlington's police chief explained to reporters that the two officers involved had not yet been interviewed due to a standard department procedure, and that he expected the officers to submit their statements in 7 to 10 days. (Investigators interviewed one of the officers on Monday.)
Albuquerque and Arlington are not outliers. For years, departments in states like Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin have required a waiting period of at least two days. In Dallas, 72 hours must pass. In Baltimore, where six police officers have been charged for their involvement in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a union contractcompels cops to wait 10 days before speaking with investigators.
In the aftermath of controversial police shootings, from Michael Brown to Tamir Rice and Samuel Dubose, the public has repeatedly seen thatan officer's account—"I almost got run over by the car" or "I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan"—can have big implications for a case, swaying internal investigators, prosecutors, and grand juries as they determine whether a police shooting was legal or justified. It is unsurprising, then, that over the past year the question of how long officers should wait before giving their accounts has been fiercelydebated. Policing experts have raised a number of issues, including, most importantly, the validity of the science—promoted often by Lewinski—behind delaying interviews.
Local officials and union attorneys who embrace the so-called 48-hour rule say stress can interfere with an officer's ability to recall details. "The science behind how people remember things, particularly those that are involved in a high-stress, adrenaline-infused situation, has shown that memories can often be inaccurate if they are immediate," Sean Smoot, a police union attorney who represents officers in Illinois, testified to the US Commission on Civil Rights in April.
When the civil rights commission pressed Smoot for data supporting his claim, he cited the work of Lewinski and the Force Science Institute. In an April 2014 Force Science newsletter, Lewinski wrote, "The overall benefit of waiting while he or she rests and emotionally decompresses far outweighs any potential loss of memory." What's more, he said, "Delay enhances an officer's ability to more accurately and completely respond to questions."
But the science shaping rules about when officers should be interviewed, several policing experts warn, is inconclusive at best, and shaky ground on which to base investigations with potentially criminal outcomes. In fact, a 2010 experiment conducted by University of South Carolina professor Geoffrey Alpert found that an officer's recollection of threats at the scene actually weakened slightly over time. The scientific conclusions about when officers should be interviewed after a shooting, Alpert says, "remain blurred."
In response to Smoot's testimony, Samuel Walker, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, reviewed a meta-study of psychological research on the relationship between stress and memory. The 2008 study concluded that "there is little evidence to support the view that emotional stress is bad for memory," Walker wrote. "Police unions and their advocates have made false and self-serving claims about the scientific evidence on the impact of trauma on memory."
When I asked Lewinski about the findings, he referred me to the recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police's psychological services section. "That prestigious and knowledgeable group disagrees strongly with Dr. Walker," Lewinski said in an email. (The association's guidelines on officer-involved shootings don't quite line up with Lewinski's 48-hour recommendation; they state that "officers should have some recovery time before providing a full formal statement," ranging from a few hours to several days, and that "an officer's memory will often benefit from at least one sleep cycle prior to being interviewed leading to more coherent and accurate statements.")
The science isn't the only concern that policing experts have raised in recent months: In her line of questioning last week, McGinn suggested the delay could give officers an opportunity to review video or "consult with their peers who were involved before they ever give a statement." Walter Katz, a Los Angeles-based attorney focusing on police accountability, told me that "there's always the concern about either contamination or having statements which are essentially fabricated." AndMcGinn and others have asked if the delays amount to special treatment a regular citizen wouldn't be afforded. (Union officials have pointed out that due process for ordinary civilians does not provide enough protection for law enforcement officers.) In the fragile atmosphere that tends to follow police shootings, such suspicions could well corrode public trust.
What's more, rules delaying interviews also overlook the fact that officers may prefer to get their interviews out of the way, says David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "In the absence of sound scientific evidence, why make them wait?"
A new law suit alleges that a school cop in Kentucky violated the civil rights of the boy and another young student.
Jaeah LeeAug. 3, 2015 5:07 PM
A Kentucky police officer has been named in a federal lawsuit filed Monday alleging that he illegally handcuffed and restrained two elementary school students with disabilities. According to the lawsuit, Kenton County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Sumner, a school resource officer assigned to the Covington Independent Public Schools district, used handcuffs last fall to restrain an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, placing the cuffs on their biceps behind their backs. Sumner allegedly did so after the students failed to comply with directions given by school authorities. Both students had previously been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the boy had also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the students by the Children's Law Center in Kentucky, Dinsmore & Shohl, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit alleges Sumner violated the students' civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Two videos accompanying the lawsuit show a November 2014 incident in which Sumner tells an 8-year-old Latino student, identified as S.R. in the lawsuit, to "Sit down like I asked you to" while handcuffing him as the child cries and expresses that he's in pain. Earlier that year, Sumner allegedly detained L.G., a 9-year-old African American student, in the back of his cruiser, after she disrupted the classroom and was requested to be escorted to an in-school suspension room. The lawsuit also details two subsequent incidents in which Sumner handcuffed L.G., one of which resulted in L.G. going to a hospital for psychiatric assessment and treatment.
The lawsuit comes amid growing concerns about the conduct of police officers serving inside the nation's K-12 schools; as Mother Jones reported recently, in the last five years at least 28 students have been seriously injured, and one student killed, by school cops. The lawsuit underscores the gaps in oversight and inadequate training for officers assigned to schools, as well as the disproportionate impact of school policing on students of color.
Kenton County Chief Deputy Pat Morgan told Mother Jones that the sheriff's office has reviewed the incidents involving the two students. Morgan said he does not consider handcuffing to be a use of force that would be subject to an internal investigation, but he declined to comment further on the case, pending review of the lawsuit by attorneys for the sheriff's office. Previous court rulings have found that handcuffing can constitute excessive force.
In a statement to press, Debra Vance, the director of communications for Covington Independent Public Schools, said that she could not speak about the case specifically due to student privacy concerns, but added that school resource officers "are not called upon by school district staff to punish or discipline a student who engages in a school-related offense."
A recent study in the Journal of Real Estate and Finance Economics finds that black home loan borrowers are charged higher interest rates than their white counterparts—and that black women pay the highest rates of all.
The three finance professors who authored the study analyzed the mortgages and demographic characteristics of more than 3,500 households during the height of the housing boom—2001, 2004, and 2007—using the Federal Reserve's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances. They found that on average, black borrowers were charged between 0.29 and 0.31 percentage points more in interest than whites, even after controlling for their debt and credit history.
The racial disparity was most pronounced for subprime borrowers who couldn't qualify for low-interest mortgages (the left side of the chart above), with black borrowers paying interest rates that were at least 0.4 percentage points higher than whites in the same group.
Within this group paying the highest interest rates, black women paid the highest rates of all, at an average rate of 7.9 percent. But a statistically significant disparity persisted even among those who paid lower interest rates (the right side of the chart), the study notes. In this group, black borrowers paid interest rates between 0.1 percent and 0.4 percentage points higher than their white counterparts.
Over at Quartz, Melvin Backman explains how these disparities translate into dollars: According to Freddie Mac's mortgage cost calculator, a $200,000, 30-year mortgage would cost a black man about $3,000 more than a white man over the course of the loan. A black woman getting the same loan would pay nearly $9,000 more than a white woman.
The study adds to a body of research showing that black mortgage applicants are more likely to be denied credit than white applicants, and are more likely to be charged higher interest rates than whites. It also appears to confirm the racial disparities identified in lawsuits against several of America's top mortgage lenders, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America's Countrywide, which faced hefty payouts in a slew of discrimination lawsuits following the housing-market crash. The lawsuits had even prompted the Obama administration to set up a new unit in the Department of Justice's civil rights division to deal with the caseload.
But the new study also suggests more granular disparities between black and white borrowers. Among black borrowers, for example, younger homeowners without a college education paid some of the highest interest rates. And among those paying higher interest rates, black women, who already facestiff obstacles to economic mobility, were likely to be charged interest rate premiums two to three times that of what black men were charged. While they do not speculate about the causes of these racial and gender gaps between borrowers, the authors conclude, "it is the more financially vulnerable black women who suffer the most."
A look at the data on driving while black in Waller County, Texas.
Jaeah LeeJul. 24, 2015 6:00 AM
The traffic stop that set off a chain of events leading to Sandra Bland's death in Waller County, Texas, is the latest in a series of recent roadside police encounters that quickly escalated into violent confrontations. Bland was one of at least two people to die in custody following a traffic stop during the same week. While medical examiners have ruled her death in jail a suicide, the circumstances behind Bland's demise remain under investigation.
According to data collected by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, a disproportionate number of the drivers pulled over by police in Waller County in 2014 were black. Out of 12,300 traffic stops, more than 29 percent involved black drivers, while black people make up about 26 percent of the county's population. In comparison, whites, who make up 70 percent of the county's population, were involved in 44 percent of traffic stops.*
Ten police agencies serving the county reported traffic stop numbers to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement as part of a state statute that prohibits racial profiling by law enforcement. In Prairie View, where Bland was pulled over by a state trooper—and where she attended a historically black college—about 64 percent of stops by local police involved black drivers. The city's population is about 89 percent black and 5 percent white.
The Texas Department of Public Safety also publishes its data on traffic stops by race, but it does not break down the figures by county. About 10 percent of DPS traffic stops across the state in 2014 involved black drivers, compared with more than 29 percent of stops in Waller County.
Correction: An earlier version of the chart included data for Waller County's Hispanic population, which may be of any race. Due to differences in data reporting on race and ethnicity between the US Census and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, a separate population chart has been added, where the white and black race categories include those identifying with a Hispanic ethnicity.