Based on the facts about the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, here is how the incident appears to this retired, 30-year police lieutenant from near San Antonio who has trained more than a thousand police officers: An individual is waving a gun at people in the park. The police drive up to within feet of the individual and park their car.
The man with the gun reaches into his waistband for the gun, despite police orders not to do so. The whole incident is over in moments, and we all know the outcome now that a Cleveland grand jury has decided not to indict the officer who shot Rice.
I have concluded that the officers’ fear was justified and their response was reasonable, at that moment. Yet I have a problem with the officers’ approach to the event. Before officers can hope to control a situation, they must first control themselves. That didn’t happen here.
Any minor change in the overall dynamic might have led to a different outcome. Time and distance should have given the officers an advantage, but because they drove to within feet of Rice they lost that advantage. Events leading to the shooting, meaning the way the officers approached the situation, virtually guaranteed a fatal result if anything went wrong—as it did.
Sue Cleveland and Its Negligent Officers
I now urge the family to sue the hell out of the City of Cleveland and the individual officers for causing Rice’s death. Yeah, I know I sound like a liberal, holding two mutually exclusive views simultaneously.
However, there are two standards to be considered in this case. One: did the officers violate Rice’s civil rights under U.S. Code Title 42 1983? They did not. The second is: did the officers violate an ordinary standard of care, and exhibit gross negligence in the performance of their duties, in the way they responded to the call? From where I stand they would need an extension ladder to climb out of the hole they dug just to reach gross negligence.
I am not an attorney, so I have no idea where Ohio law is on tort actions. In a similar Texas case, the district judge found for the plaintiff because the officer put himself in a situation where shooting was his only option.
What I am advocating is akin to a medical malpractice-style suit after a patient went in for a vasectomy and came out with a sex change. The two might have started in the same ball park, but the results are in no way comparable.
These had to be the two stupidest cops ever to shit between police shoes to respond to this call in the manner that they chose. The only way the passenger officer could have redeemed himself is if he immediately turned and shot the driver officer for putting him in that position. These idiots need to be fired, because they are too stupid to be allowed access to anything more lethal than a rubber ball.
Here’s What Those Officers Should Have Done
I have put the cart before the horse and offered my conclusions without demonstrating my work. Okay, let me back up.
The officers were dispatched to a man with a gun call at a city park. The caller indicated the belief that the gun may not have been real, but that was not relayed to the officers. Doesn’t matter. What does a “reasonable police officer” versus these brain-dead clowns know? (1) Approaching a guy with a gun in and of itself is not your happy place. (2) Given distance, a handgun has limited potential for accuracy. (3) The more separation between officers, the greater the chance that a rational gunman will decline the confrontation. (4) Time equals the ability to gain information. (5) Information is power. (6) Information flows both ways.
Accepting the preceding statements as reasonable, what does a reasonable police officer do? (1) Create distance between the suspected gunman and the officers. (2) Distance creates time to assess: Is this a man with a gun, or a child? (3) Distance allows officers to gain cover and concealment, which lessens the threat level and creates time. (4) Commands by police clarify to everybody involved the intent of the actors. (5) First impressions are either confirmed or denied. (6) If denied, a new round of assessment can begin.
Let’s Consider a Similar Occurrence
I found myself in a similar situation once on a Saturday night. I was flagged down and informed that a man was staggering down the street wielding a shotgun at 1:30 in the morning. The block was a location where we had arrested a man on two consecutive Saturdays as a drunk causing a disturbance.
The radio was so busy that I was unable to inform dispatch of the situation. I pulled into the block, still unable to inform dispatch. This is not the way to answer a “man with a gun” call, but it was the 1970s and my balls were made of brass and clanked when I walked. I popped my 870 shotgun out of the rack and started making my way to the house. As I did so, dispatch put out the man with a gun call.
When I tried to “buy the call,” my sergeant, who was riding in a two-man car, broadcast over my transmission and pulled up in front of the house. As he did so, the suspect stepped out of the shadows, ten feet from the patrol car. He did indeed have a shotgun. Fortunately, it was pointed skyward.
I racked my 870. For those who are uninitiated, there is no louder, more distinctive sound that can occur in the nighttime than the working of a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun. Once heard, that distinctive noise can never be anything but an 870. I yelled at him to “Drop the gun,” then to “Drop the fucking gun,” and he did not comply. Had I been concerned for my safety, I would have fired at that point, but since it was my sergeant I gave him a little extra time. My sergeant yelled at him to put the gun down and he did so.
This guy meant no harm to anybody. He had purchased a piece-of-shit J.C. Higgens single-shot shotgun in a bar for $35 and wanted to show it off to his cousins inside the house. He didn’t drop it because he didn’t want to mess up his new gun. The sergeant later said the only thing that kept him from coming out of the car shooting was the knowledge that I was there and had the guy covered.
In this instance, everybody screwed up to a certain degree. Nobody knew that I had responded to the call. Therefore, there was no opportunity to coordinate our response. The sergeant and his driver thought they were a block away when they parked in front of the house. On the plus side, I wasn’t threatened by the drunk with the shotgun. Had he lowered the gun in a threatening manner, I had more than enough time to shoot, and at that distance I wasn’t likely to miss. The drunk got his time. Time and permission to put the gun down was all he needed.
Well-Trained Officers Reduce the Need to Shoot
I have taught “officer survival” to thousands of police officers. One of the questions I put to officers who have shot at suspects is: “Take an inventory between those times when you have fired at suspects and those times when you could have fired at suspects and didn’t. What was different?”
You could almost see the light bulb pop on. Most officers who had been involved in shootings could recount a dozen instances where a shooting would have been justified, but they did not shoot. The answer was almost always the same: “I ran out of options,” “I had no choice,” “There was nothing else I could do.”
Applying proper tactics, personal discipline, and a basic knowledge of policing do not lead to a Tamir Rice confrontation. I would challenge any police officer with a lick of pride or integrity to contact the Cleveland Police Department and tell them that, in this instance, their officers have violated a standard of care and trust that is unacceptable to the profession. Make no mistake: This isn’t about toy guns, it is not about white cops shooting black suspects, and it isn’t even about justification.