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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.
Why weren't the cops told that Rice was thought to be a kid with a fake gun?
Jaeah LeeJun. 24, 2015 6:00 AM
Tamir Rice's sister and mother at the park where the 12-year-old was gunned down.
At 3:22 p.m. last November 22, just minutes before 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally wounded by a Cleveland police officer at a neighborhood park, a man called 911 to report "a guy in here with a pistol…pointing it at everybody." During the two-minute conversation, the caller described a person in a gray coat, "probably a juvenile," who was sitting on a swing and holding a gun that was "probably fake." Before hanging up, the caller reiterated his uncertainty about the gun: "I don't know if it's real or not."
Those presumably important details would never go past that call.
Constance Hollinger, a Cleveland police dispatcher of 19 years, was on the other end of the line that day. Hollinger entered information from the caller's description of the scene into the dispatch computer system, according to an official investigation of the case. A few minutes later, dispatcher Beth Mandl read Hollinger's notes from a computer screen as she transmitted the information to police officers over the radio: "In the park by the youth center is a black male sitting on the swings. He is wearing a camouflage hat, a gray jacket with black sleeves. He keeps pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people."
Mandl relayed it as a "code one," indicating the highest priority level and the need for immediate response. By 3:30 p.m., officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback pulled up in front of Rice in the park, and within two seconds Loehmann jumped out and fired his gun at Rice at close range, striking him in the abdomen. For the next several minutes, Rice lay bleeding on the ground while the two officers stood by without giving him aid—inaction that may have potentially been criminal according to one policing expert—until other responders arrived, tended to Rice, and took him to a hospital, where he died the next day.
Recordings of the initial 911 call and the radio dispatch to officers, released by the Cleveland police department in November (listen below), showed that the details about Rice's suspected age and fake gun never reached Loehmann and Garmback. After a five-month probe into the shooting by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, which culminated in a 224-page report released in mid June, investigators concluded that these details did not make it from Hollinger to Mandl. The report did not specify why.
According to a county official familiar with the investigation who spoke to Mother Jones, the details were not relayed because Hollinger did not enter them into the dispatch computer system. Why she did not do so is one of several key questions still hanging over the case seven months later. The ongoing investigation is now in the hands of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who took over the case on June 3.
In an interview with Cuyahoga County sheriff's detectives, Hollinger said that as a 911 call taker, she was responsible for retrieving "pertinent information" about each call—such as the caller's name, address, location, and reason for the call—and assigning the call a priority level. But Hollinger refused to answer investigators' questions about why she did not input the details about Rice's suspected age and possibly fake gun, per the advice of her union-provided attorney.
Hollinger declined to comment to Mother Jones about her role in the case, citing the ongoing investigation and the Cleveland police department's "stringent rules" about making public statements. Her attorney, Keith Wolgamuth, told Mother Jones that Hollinger "was advised to exercise her Fifth Amendment rights," and that her actions last November 22 were within protocol. Wolgamuth, who says he has represented police radio dispatchers in Cleveland for 30 years, said "a prudent call taker" views information about a possible fake gun "as immaterial to the necessary police response because any gun could be fake, as the responding officers know." As for the caller's comments about Rice's probable youth, he said, "the person could always be a 'juvenile' and, perhaps as importantly, there are plenty of juveniles that have real guns and use them, as police officers well know. A prudent call taker understands this information is not essential to the police response."
[Listen to excerpts from the 911 call and the dispatch to officers:]
Experts on police dispatch operations declined to comment specifically on Hollinger's handling of the 911 call. Speaking about industry best practices, they concurred that details about a juvenile or a possible fake gun would be important to relay to officers, both for their safety and tactical response.
Dave Warner, a former police officer who is a consultant for the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, said a call reporting an armed suspect should prompt call takers and dispatchers to ask a series of questions—covering the suspect's estimated age, whether medical assistance is required, whether the caller feels like he or she is in danger, and a description of the weapon. "If the caller says he thinks that it could possibly be fake, that should have been in there," he said.
Warner pointed out, however, that even if Hollinger had relayed the missing details about Rice, there's no way to know whether Loehmann and Garmback would have approached the scene differently or whether the fatal shooting would have been averted.
The two officers involved in the shooting still aren't speaking to investigators, their attorney told Mother Jones.
The precise level of detail required from a dispatcher depends on the police agency's policies, notes Chris Carver, an operations director at the National Emergency Number Association. "There is an unbelievable amount of variance" across agencies on how to handle 911 calls, Carver says, adding that there's no national standard on training for 911 personnel. "That is a critical issue we're trying to address all around the country."
In Cleveland, however, dispatchers are supposed to "relay all information included in an incident" to officers responding to a call, including a suspect's "physical characteristics" and a weapon type and description, according to the agency's policy for answering 911 calls.
"There is always the chance the witness is wrong, that the suspect has a real gun," acknowledges Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who now teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Law. "But a witness's description of a weapon as 'probably fake,' combined with a description of the suspect as a juvenile, is very different than a description of an adult holding a firearm that the witness is sure is real," he says. "Officers may take a very different approach" to each of those cases, he says.
According to the 224-page report, Hollinger and Mandl worked in the same "large room" housing multiple dispatch operations. In an interview with Cuyahoga County sheriff's investigators, Mandl said the only information known to dispatchers was what was entered into the dispatch computer system. Dispatchers have no other means to acquire information about a call, she said, and they have no direct contact with the caller, except in cases when an officer in the field requests additional information. There was no such request from Loehmann or Garmback on November 22 after Mandl broadcast the information from Hollinger.
According to a personnel file released by the city of Cleveland, a supervisor gave Hollinger a "satisfactory" performance rating in 2013, noting that Hollinger "tends to be abrupt, and disconnect the caller when they are attempting to provide additional info."
The investigation by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department did not include any testimony from Loehmann and Garmback, who declined investigators' repeated requests for interviews based on the advice of their union-provided attorneys. In an email to Mother Jones, Michael Maloney, an attorney representing the officers, said his clients also would not agree to an interview at this time with McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor. Maloney said his clients "have not ruled out the possibility of prepared written statements" for the prosecutor, and that they would make a decision about testifying before a grand jury "when the time comes."
McGinty's office declined to comment to Mother Jones about the case, including with regard to how much longer the investigation might take.
The US economy is rebounding for the nation's top income earners but not for everyone else, according to a new study from the Economic Policy Institute. The study, published Sunday, finds that chief executives at the country's 350 biggest firms earned an average of $16.3 million in 2014, marking a 54.3 percent increase since 2009. Meanwhile, compensation for typical workers in the same industries as those CEOs fell 1.7 percent over the same time period.
"Those at the top of the income distribution, including many CEOs, are seeing a strong recovery, while the typical worker is still experiencing the detrimental effects of a stagnant labor market," the study's authors, Lawrence Mishel and Alyssa Davis, found.
The pay gap between CEOs and the typical worker has widened since 2009, with CEOs now making more than 303 times the earnings of workers in their industries. CEOs have made at least 120 times the earnings of typical workers since 1995. In 2014, Mishel and Davis note, CEOs also made 5.84 times more than others in the top 0.1 percent of wage earners. "As CEO pay has escalated," the authors found, "it's directly contributed to growing income inequality by [fueling] the growth of the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent."
CEO pay soared by 997 percent between 1978 and 2014, after adjusting for inflation. That meteoric rise is double the growth rate of the stock market and makes the increase in the typical worker's annual compensation seem trivial: The earnings of typical workers grew at a "painfully slow" 10.9 percent over the same period, according to the EPI researchers.
The trends in CEO pay over time, which tracked closely with the ups and downs of the stock market, "casts doubt on any explanation of high and rising CEO pay that relies on the rising individual productivity of executives, either because they head larger firms, have adopted new technology, or other reasons," Mishel and Davis conclude. "CEO compensation often grows strongly simply when the overall stock market rises and individual firms' stock values rise along with it."
In the wake of the Charleston shooting, the president escalates his argument for gun reform.
Jaeah Lee and Edwin RiosJun. 19, 2015 8:33 PM
Two days after the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Barack Obama continued to speak out about the politics of guns. Commenting in the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Thursday, Obama pointed out the failure of Congress to act after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, which he cited last year as the "biggest frustration" of his presidency. On Friday, speaking in San Francisco at the annual US Conference of Mayors, Obama called on city leaders from across the country to address gun violence. This time, his frustration seemed tinged with a hint of anger. "At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens," he said. "It is not good enough simply to show sympathy."
Here is the full transcript of his remarks on guns from the above video:
Obviously, the entire country's been shocked and heartbroken by what happened in Charleston. The nature of this attack in a place of worship, where congregates invite in a stranger to worship with them only to be gunned down, adds to the pain. The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together. We have made great progress, but we have to be vigilant, because it still lingers. And when it's poisoning the minds of young people, it betrays our ideals and tears our democracy apart.
Whether it's a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community. And it costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.
But as much as we grieve this particular tragedy, I think it's important, as I had mentioned at the White House, to step back and recognize that these tragedies have become far too commonplace. Few people understand the terrible toll of gun violence like mayors do. Whether it's a mass shooting like the one in Charleston, or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of the community. And it costs you money, and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.
More than 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone. Eleven thousand. If Congress had passed some common-sense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classrooms, reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported, we wouldn't have prevented every act of violence, or even most. We don't know it would have prevented what happened in Charleston. No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence. But we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole. You all might have to attend fewer funerals.
We should be strong enough to acknowledge this. At the very least, we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens without demonizing all gun owners, who are overwhelmingly law abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody's guns away. I know today's politics makes it less likely that we see any sort of series of gun safety legislation. I remarked that it was very unlikely that this Congress would act. And some reporters, I think, took this as resignation.
You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth. Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What's different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.
I want to be clear. I'm not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing. I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency. Ultimately Congress will follow the people. We have to stop being confused about this. At some point as a country we have to reckon with what happens. It is not good enough simply to show sympathy. You don’t see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth. Every country has violent, hateful, or mentally unstable people. What's different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns.
And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal. Or to pretend that it's simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is politicizing the problem. [ Applause ] We need a change in attitude, among everybody. Lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns, we have to have a conversation about it and fix this. And ultimately Congress acts when the public insists on action. And we've seen how public opinion can change. We’ve seen it change on gay marriage. We've seen it beginning to change on climate change. We've got to shift how we think about this issue. And we have the capacity to change. But we have to feel a sense of urgency about it. We as a people have got to change. That's how we honor those families. That's how we honor the families in Newtown. That's how we honor the families in Aurora.
State Sen. Clementa Pinckney speaks at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., June 3, 2014.
One of the victims of Wednesday's horrific shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was state Senator Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor. Much has already been written about Pinckney's dedication to public service from a young age, and his rich life in the church. My colleagues are updating a full list of the nine victims as more information becomes available. In the meantime, here's another memorable moment from Pinckney's leadership in the South Carolina Senate.
Back in May, the senator delivered this stirring (and now haunting) call to action following the death of Walter Scott—the unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in North Charleston, just six miles north of where Pinckney and others were murdered. Here's Pinckney on the Senate floor, rallying support for the adoption of police body cameras. Watch and read below:
Today, the nation looks at South Carolina and is looking at us to see if we will rise to be the body, and to be the state that we really say that we are. Over this past week, many of us have seen on the television, have read in newspapers, and have seen all the reports about Walter Scott, who, in my words, was murdered in North Charleston. It has really created a real heartache and a yearning for justice for people, not just in the African American community, but for all people, and not just in the Charleston area, or even in South Carolina, but across our country.
...But the next week, Thomas was there, Jesus walked in, he said, "I won't believe until I see the nails. I won't believe until I can put my hand in your side." And it was only when he was able to do that, he said, "I believe, my Lord and my God."
Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, when we first heard on the television, that a police officer had gunned down an unarmed African American in North Charleston by the name of Walter Scott, there were some who said, "Wow. The national story has come home to South Carolina." But there were many who said, "There is no way that a police officer would ever shoot somebody in the back 6, 7, 8, times." But like Thomas, when we were able to see the video, and we were able to see the gun shots, and when we saw him fall to the ground, and when we saw the police officer come and handcuff him on the ground, without even trying to resuscitate him, without even seeing if he was really alive, without calling an ambulance, without calling for help, and to see him die face down in the ground as if he were gunned down like game, I believe we all were like Thomas, and said, "I believe."
...We have a great opportunity to allow sunshine into this process. It is my hope that as South Carolina senators, that we will stand up for what is best and good about our state and really adopt this legislation and find a way to have body cameras in South Carolina. Our hearts go out to the Scott family, and our hearts go out to the Slager family, because the Lord teaches us to love all, and we pray that over time, that justice be done.
Hundreds of pages detail the inner workings of a long and complicated investigation.
Jaeah LeeJun. 13, 2015 4:32 PM
Samaria Rice center, the mother of Tamir Rice, and others, march during a protest in Washington, DC, Dec. 13, 2014.
The long-awaited findings of a probe into the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a police officer in a Cleveland park last November, were finally released Saturday afternoon by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office.
The publication of hundreds of pages of documents marks a significant milestone in the long and complicated search for answers surrounding the boy's death. County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney's office took over the investigation from the Cleveland police department in January. Then, five months later, the sheriff's office handed over its findings to county prosecutor, Timothy J. McGinty, who has led the efforts since, and released today's findings. Next, McGinty's office will decide what additional investigation might be required, after which prosecutors will present evidence to a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
"The death of a citizen resulting from the use of deadly force by the police is different from all other cases and deserves a high level of public scrutiny," McGinty said in a statement accompanying the trove of documents.
Here are some of the major findings contained in today's report. We're making our way through the report now and will update this list:
Sheriff's investigators interviewed 27 people, including the officers who arrived after the shooting, the 911 caller, paramedics, friends of Rice, and workers at at the Cudell Recreation Center, which is near the site of Rice's death.
Officers Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shots, and Frank Garmback, who drove the squad car, have yet to speak to investigators, despite multiple attempts to interview Loehmann and Garmback since the Cleveland police department handed over the case in January.
Rice's mother, Samaria Rice, also declined to speak with investigators.
The 911 dispatcher who relayed the message to Loehmann and Garmback "refused to answer questions (per her attorney) about not relaying specific information related to the 911 call." A county official familiar with the case confirmed to Mother Jones that the dispatcher did not answer questions as to why she failed to mention that Rice was possibly a "juvenile" and that his weapon was probably "fake."
According to witness interviews, it remains unclear whether Loehmann shouted commands at Rice from inside the police car before firing his gun. A weapons inspection showed that Loehmann fired two shots at the boy within one to two seconds of exiting the vehicle.
One witness, who said she was about 315 feet from the scene, said she was getting into a car when she heard, "Pop pop...Freeze let me see your hands...Pop."
Saturday's release comes days after community leaders in Cleveland filed affidavits asking a municipal judge to seek charges against the officers involved. The judge responded on Thursday saying he believed there was probable cause to bring charges including murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Since Rice's death on November 22, 2014, questions have mounted about why it has taken so long to investigate the incident. As Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a former Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, told Mother Jones, "Half a year is an extremely long time," especially given the video of the shooting, the details of the 911 calls, and "the questions raised about Officer Loehmann's fitness for duty."