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Tamir Rice's Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Tamir, 12, was fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer while playing with what turned out to be an airsoft pellet gun on Nov. 22.
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Tamir Rice fell to the snow-covered ground in Cleveland on Nov. 22, "still alive, shot in the stomach, and bleeding to death," according to a new lawsuit filed Friday in federal court by the boy’s family.

He died the next day in a hospital, his name joining a list of unarmed African American men and boys who have died in confrontations with police.

Rice, 12, is the youngest, and many activists say one of the most tragically vivid examples of the consequences of racial profiling and excessive force. The Rice case is now being investigated by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office, passed to them by the Cleveland Police, the main target of the Rice family’s lawsuit.

The Rice family’s lawyers had filed their case initially in federal court last December, a brief eight-page document. On Friday, with a new legal team including Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the Rice family filed a 65-page document charging at least 27 different allegations.

Their claims ranging from excessive force by the two officers who encountered Rice, Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann, to negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.

A spokesman for the sheriff's office has said the investigation is "open-ended," and refused to discuss any details of the case this week. In previous statements, the Cleveland Police Department said that the officers were responding to a 911 call of a suspect with a gun, and that they warned Rice several times to drop the object he had in his hand.

But surveillance video, now easily seen online, shows the officers driving up to the boy and opening fire within two seconds. What police suspected was a handgun turned out to be a pellet gun. Tamir’s family said the boy had swapped his cell phone for the toy with a friend earlier that day.

The new lawsuit by the Rice’s parents claims Tamir’s 14-year-old sister, identified only as T.R. in the documents, arrived "within one minute," of the shooting, screaming, “my baby brother, they killed my baby brother.” The family claims police tackled her to the ground as she approached, handcuffed her and put her in the backseat of a police car, "providing her with a window view from the back seat where she could watch 12-year-old Tamir dying."

The lawsuit claims the officers "stood around and did not appear concerned." Some four minutes after the shooting, the family claims that an FBI agent who happened to be in the area arrived on the scene and administered first aid to the 12-year-old.

The documents go on to describe how Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, arrived a short time later, and that police made her decide whether to stay with her daughter in the police car or go to the hospital with her son, “a choice no mother should ever have to face,” insists her attorneys.

The lawsuit also claims that Loehmann, the officer who fired the fatal shots, should not have been hired by Cleveland police. He had been dismissed from a smaller local police department, and turned down for work at three others in the state, the documents claim. It’s unclear to what extent the Cleveland PD examined his employment history before he joined the force.

Well before the Rice case, the Justice Department was investigating the Cleveland Police Department. A report released in December found "a pattern and practice of using excessive force."

The case is likely to end up with Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty. His policy regarding fatal police shootings is to refer them to a grand jury. Lawyers for the Rice family say they don’t expect that process to begin until perhaps March or April, a process they remain skeptical of given the outcome of the St. Louis County grand jury that decided not to file charges against officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.