Cleveland activists made an unusual legal maneuver Tuesday aimed at forcing the arrest of two officers involved in the shooting death of 12-year-old boy Tamir Rice last year.
Saying they were losing confidence in the grand jury process, the activists instead asked a judge to order the arrests of the officers.
The move, known as an "affidavit of person having knowledge of offense," centers on a widely distributed security camera footage of the Nov. 22 shooting, that shows two officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, responding to a recreation center playground where Rice was playing with a pellet gun. Within two seconds of stopping, Loehmann, a rookie officer, shot him. Tamir died the next day.
Investigators said the boy appeared to be reaching for a gun in his waistband.
The investigation of Rice's death was turned over last week to prosecutors, who will ask a grand jury to decide whether criminal charges should be filed against the officer.
Eight community leaders and activists signed the affidavit, saying, in effect, that they had seen what happened and were empowered by a rarely used Ohio law to accuse the officers of aggravated murder.
In a news conference outside the county courthouse, they cited the case of Michael Brelo, a Cleveland officer who was acquitted of manslaughter last month in the shooting deaths of two unarmed occupants of a car. The case was tried by Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who is also handling the Rice case.
Soon after the Brelo verdict, the city agreed to a set of police reforms to settle allegations of biased policing by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"As citizens we have to do our best to get justice," said R.A. Vernon, a pastor at The Word Church and one of those who signed the Rice affidavit.
Michael Nelson, a lawyer who leads the criminal justice committee of the Cleveland NAACP, filed the motion. He said the move wasn't an attempt to circumvent the grand jury process, just a way to take advantage of all available legal avenues.
"What you see here today is one of the most American things I've seen in my life," Nelson said. "The people have decided to take the opportunity to make the government work for them."
No members of Rice's family, nor the family's lawyer, signed the affidavit. They have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officers.
The motion will be handled by an administrative judge, who will assign it to a judge who will hold a hearing on it.