On Tuesday, eight community activists in Cleveland sought arrest warrants for the officers involved in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last winter. They did so under a little-known Ohio law that allows private citizens to bypass the local prosecutor and directly petition a judge for arrest warrants.
Well, in a move that came sooner than anyone could have expected, Cleveland Municipal Judge Ronald Adrine ruled that while he has no power to issue warrants himself, he did believe that there was probable cause to bring charges against the man who pulled the trigger, Timothy Loehmann, and his field training officer, Frank Garmback. With this in mind, he recommended that criminal complaints “should be filed” against Loehmann and Garmback. Once those complaints are filed, Adrine or another judge would formally issue arrest warrants.
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer managed to get its hands on Adrine’s order. Read it here. Adrine wrote that when he watched the now-infamous video showing Tamir’s death, he was “thunderstruck” by how rapidly the situation went downhill. He noted that Tamir would have had “little if any time” to react to any verbal commands given by Loehmann or Garmback when they arrived on the scene. Loehmann shot Tamir just 1.5 seconds after he arrived. As we know by now, it would have been physically impossible for Loehmann to have had time to give Tamir any kind of warning in that time. By Adrine’s reckoning, Loehmann and Garmback didn’t approach Tamir for at least four minutes after Tamir was shot, even though it should have been obvious that Tamir was gravely injured.
With these factors in mind, Adrine found that there was probable cause to charge Loehmann with some combination of murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide, and dereliction of duty. He also found there was probable cause to charge Garmback with negligent homicide and dereliction of duty. It undoubtedly worked in the petitioners’ favor that Tamir’s death has already been ruled a homicide. However, Adrine found that while the statute appeared to allow him to issue arrest warrants right away, the Ohio Supreme Court’s rules of criminal procedure require a criminal complaint to be filed before warrants can be issued. Adrine wrote that under the state constitution, the rules of criminal procedure took precedence, and therefore he did not have the power to issue arrest warrants on his own authority.
Adrine did, however, have the power to recommend that either Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry or Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinity file criminal complaints–and did so. In Ohio, the city law director or city prosecutor handles misdemeanor cases, while the county prosecutor handles felonies. In this case, Langhenry would have the power to file complaints against Loehmann and Garmback for dereliction of duty and/or negligent homicide, which are misdemeanors. McGinity would be responsible for filing complaints against Loehmann for murder, involuntary manslaughter, and/or reckless homicide.
Nonetheless, those standing up for Tamir were overjoyed. One of the petitioners, Jawanza Colvin, said that Adrine’s ruling showed that the courts do indeed listen to ordinary residents’ concerns and that “all lives do matter.” Rice family attorney Walter Madison said that his clients were surprised to learn that “the system does actually work in their favor.” Remember, this case has already moved further along than those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner ever did. Indeed, Darren Wilson and Daniel Panteleo were never even arrested after grand juries declined to indict them.
Given the obscurity of this law and the fact that the petitioners were alleging that this was a murder, I thought it may have taken at least a week for Adrine to make his decision. The fact that he did so less than 48 hours after hearing the case is nothing less than surprising. However, it says something about the egregiousness of the actions portrayed in the video.
Now the ball is in Langhenry and McGinity’s court. However, based on the facts of the case, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be arrests at some point. Remember, Loehmann opened fire almost as soon as he arrived, and he and Garmback just stood there when it was obvious Tamir was gravely injured. If that isn’t dereliction of duty and negligent homicide, I don’t know what is. Frankly, I’m surprised Loehmann and Garmback haven’t been arrested yet. But if criminal complaints are filed, Loehmann and Garmback’s arrests will be long overdue.