Advocates call on Biden to reopen civil rights case shut down by Trump’s DOJ

Photos by Mark Silverberg

By Brian “BZ” Douglas
Independent Movement Journalist and Producer

 

About 60 demonstrators gathered in downtown Cleveland at Public Square in the pouring rain on June 25 to mark what would have been Tamir Rice’s 19th birthday. He would have been celebrating his birthday had he never encountered Cleveland Police Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback at the Cudell Recreation Center on November 22, 2014.

Tamir was 12-years-old when he was was shot and killed by Loehmann after the officers were dispatched to the scene following a 911 call about a “guy with a gun.” Tamir had been playing with an airsoft replica pistol at the time. The toy gun was in his waistband when officers arrived, and Loehmann shot and killed him. Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, would have been presenting gifts to her son, watching him blow out candles on a cake, and dwelling upon all the things a parent considers as their teenager transitions into adulthood.

Instead, Ms. Rice stood in the driving rain alongside a coalition of activists and citizens preparing to march in solidarity with Tamir’s Campaign for Justice through downtown Cleveland. Another protest had already taken place a few hours earlier in Washington D.C. The goal of both actions is to spur voters to send letters to the Biden Administration, to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division to re-open the federal criminal case against Officers Loehmann and Garmback.

Loehmann was fired because the City discovered he lied on his initial job application, while Garmback received a brief suspension for tactical errors he made during the fatal shooting.

”A little rain ain’t going to stop this parade. This parade is on the move for justice,” said Josiah Quarles, organizer for Tamir’s Campaign for Justice, to the crowd gathered in front of the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Court House after marching through the streets in heavy rain. “Today we’re asking Merrick Garland and the DOJ Civil Rights Division to re-open the case that was unjustly shut down by the Trump administration,” Quarles said.

The civil rights case was quietly closed in August 2019 by then-Attorney General William Barr. The Rice family didn’t learn about the decision until over a year later when the New York Times broke the story. The article revealed that two career DOJ prosecutors were interested in pursuing federal criminal civil rights charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice against Loehmann and Garmback. The decision was brought to light after a whistleblower complaint revealed the prosecutors asked supervisors to convene a grand jury in 2017 to consider federal charges.

This is one of several pressure points in Tamir’s Campaign for Justice. “We are asking every government official seeking office right now, whether they would take an endorsement from the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association,” Quarles said.

In December 2018, an arbitrator upheld the City’s decision to fire Loehmann. The police union, known as CPPA, attempted to get Loehmann reinstated by appealing the decision in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in March 2019. A judge upheld the arbitrator’s ruling in December 2019. CPPA then filed an appeal in the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cuyahoga County. In March 2021, a three-judge panel declined to reinstate Loehmann after it unanimously held that the police union failed to meet the deadline to serve the City’s attorneys with their application to vacate the arbitrator’s decision. The following month Loehmann appealed his case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Latonya Goldsby, president and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland and Tamir’s cousin, spoke about the sentencing of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which occurred earlier in the day. “We demand the same accountability here in Cleveland. We want Timothy Loehmann convicted and sentenced,” said Goldsby. She then took a moment to remind the crowd that “if Tamir was here, we would be celebrating right now. Nineteen years in a man’s life is a milestone.”

Ms. Rice also reflected on Chauvin’s sentencing for murdering George Floyd in her opening remarks, “I don’t know if 22 years is good enough for me, but at least it’s something.” She expressed her frustration with the DOJ for closing her son’s case. Ms. Rice pointedly called on President Joe Biden to keep his promise “to make things right,” which she says he made to her at the 2015 NAACP Freedom Fund gala. “He might not remember the conversation, but I do,” emphasized Ms. Rice.

Kareem Henton, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Cleveland told the crowd the City of Cleveland has continually resisted efforts to hold the Cleveland Division of Police accountable. Henton took aim at how the City has repeatedly failed to carry out the DOJ consent decrees imposed on the City. He specifically called out Mayor Frank Jackson’s appointment of retired federal magistrate judge Greg White as the Consent Decree Implementation Coordinator. “He failed in that, and the mayor brought him back in order for him to fail again,” said Henton referring to White.

Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Ayesha Bell Hardaway was the final speaker. She was recently forced to resign from her position as the Deputy Monitor of the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team after city officials complained about remarks she made during an NPR interview. Hardaway said she has kept in touch with Ms. Rice over the years and always made time to talk or help when she could. “When it feels like it’s too much for me to bear, unfortunately I have her example to look for as my guiding star,” said Hardaway.

Hardaway shared her thoughts on Chauvin’s sentencing, making the distinction between punishment and justice, which would be “making sure that Black people are not disproportionately killed in American streets every day under the guise of state authority.”

In closing, Hardaway implored outraged citizens to make their voices heard and for elected officials to remember who they serve. “We need a city government that hears its people. We need officers that are accountable to the people they are bound and sworn to protect,” she said to the crowd. Hardaway turned to Samaria and said “Thank you.” Then the two embraced.

 

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