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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tamir Rice and the depraved heart

by John MacBeath Watkins

When I heard that 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by Cleveland police after waving a realistic toy gun around, I thought, what a tragedy.  Wouldn't have happened to me as a 12-year-old white kid if I'd been doing something that stupid when I was growing up in Maine, but it's the sort of thing that happens in cities.

Then I heard that the two officers at the scene did not render  first aid to the kid for four minutes, and at that point an FBI agent who happened to be in the neighborhood came along and rendered assistance.

In my opinion, that's a crime.

There are two possible interpretations of this. One is the doofus theory, that the cops were so freaked out by one of them having shot a kid, they didn't know what to do. If that's the case, they were negligent, and so useless in an emergency that I'd say they have no business on a police force.

The other possibility is more sinister and I'd say less likely. Sometimes, negligence is intended to cause harm or death. These are called depraved heart crimes, or sometimes depraved indifference. If the officers at the scene were convinced that they had screwed up to the point where it could cost them their badges, it might have been to their advantage if the kid died and could not testify.

In support of the doofus theory, we have information provided by the previous employer of the cop who shot the kid. Timothy Loehmann, the 26-year-old cop who did the shooting, had previously worked of a police department in a suburb of Cleveland called Independence. The city of Independence has taken the unusual step of releasing a letter recommending the dismissal of Loehmann.

From Cleveland.com:

A Nov. 29, 2012 letter contained in Tim Loehmann's personnel file from the Independence Police Department says that during firearms qualification training he was "distracted" and "weepy."
"He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal," according to the letter written by Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police.
The letter recommended that the department part ways with Loehmann, who went on to become a police officer with the Cleveland Division of Police.
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies," Polak said.
So, maybe the guy had issues and should never have been hired. That doesn't explain why his partner, 46-year-old Frank Garmback, also failed to render first aid. Perhaps there's more to the story, but it's hard to think of a good reason for this.

The thing that makes both men look bad, and made me think of the phrase "depraved indifference," is the story they told before they knew there was video of the incident.

From the Daily Kos:

Not knowing that a camera recorded the entire incident, the police told what appear to be at least five lies about what happened.
1. Police said that Tamir Rice was seated at a table with other people.
2. Police said that as they pulled up, they saw Tamir Rice grab the gun and put it in his waistband.
3. Police said they got out of the car and told Tamir Rice three times to put his hands up but he refused.
4. Police said that Tamir Rice then reached into his waistband and pulled out the gun, and was then shot and killed by Officer Timothy Loehmann.
5. Timothy Loehmann was described as a rookie.

1. Tamir Rice as not seated at a table with other people.
2. Tamir Rice does not appear to grab the gun and put it in his waistband.
3. Police shot and killed Tamir in less than two seconds and could not have told him to put his hands up three times.
4. Tamir Rice absolutely does not pull the air gun out of his waistband and brandish it in any way. This fact is so crucial.
5. Timothy Loehmann was not a rookie, but had been an officer for over two years.
If both officers told this story and it didn't agree with the video of the event, that makes it look to me like they colluded on a story that would exonerate Loehmann.  But why would Garman do that?

Anyone who has spent time around cops knows that one of the most important traits a cop can have to survive in the work they do and support those they work with is loyalty, and especially loyalty to your partner.

I don't know if this is a case of misplaced loyalty or if the two men talked about what happened and became convinced that their erroneous account was true. If the latter is the case, it supports the doofus theory and indicates neither man is a reliable witness to a crime, and should not, in my humble opinion, be cops. If the statements of fact that were not true were a conspiracy to clear Loehmann, that would be another reason both men should not be cops.

Even if that were the case, it would not prove that letting the kid lay there bleeding for four minutes was a depraved heart crime. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that you'd have to prove that they were letting him bleed out to eliminate the only other witness to the shooting.

That's a high bar to clear, as it should be, because I find it difficult to believe anyone would do that. But then, I find it difficult to believe anyone kills people for the flimsy reasons they do.

I doubt very much these men will be held criminally liable for failing to render first aid for those four minutes.

But unless I hear a damned good explanation for that failure, I'll always wonder: Did they have depraved hearts, or were they doofuses, or is there something I'm missing here?




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