Behind The Badge Accountability: Tamir Rice

Cleveland, Ohio (TFC) – Considering the fact that United States Law Enforcement has killed over one thousand people this year alone, it’s hard to keep up with all of the active cases. There are a few that will forever remain burned into the minds of activists and families around the globe. One of the many cases being referenced is the blatant murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. It will be one year, this Sunday, since Tamir was murdered by a rookie that was riding with a senior officer. Many have stayed focused on Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir twice on that cold afternoon. Everywhere you look you will see that Loehmann’s name stands alone. This needs to change. There are many key players that allowed this murder to happen and that same system is now defending itself with outside “experts” and inside deals. As the driver and senior officer, Frank Garmback may as well have pulled the trigger himself. I know. I know. Loehmann pulled the trigger. I’ll address your concerns but we’re going to focus on the officers’ backgrounds, the information passed to them from dispatch, and the horrendous cowboy style tactics that Garmback chose to use that day.

Image Source: The All-Nite Images, Flickr, Creative Commons Millions March NYC

Image Source: The All-Nite Images, Flickr, Creative Commons
Millions March NYC

Frank Garmback graduated high school in 1986 then worked on an assembly line, in Brook Park, OH, until he was laid off in the year 2000. He then worked at Home Depot, while driving a delivery truck for a local liquor distributor. During that time he put in an application to become a police officer with Brook Park in 2004 but was declined. He continued to deliver liquor and work at Home Depot until he was hired by the Cleveland Police Department, in 2008, at 40 years of age. In 2011, three years into his employment, he was presented with an award for shooting and wounding a robbery suspect who apparently ran then pulled a gun on him. At the age of 46, Garmback had been an officer for only six years and was chosen to be the senior officer responsible for driving with Loehmann during his probationary period.

Timothy Loehmann’s father spent twenty years with the New York City police department and another twenty years with the U.S. Marshall’s service. When his father was asked about his career with the N.Y.P.D he’s quoted saying, “I loved the action.” Loehmann began his policing career, in July 2012 in Independence, Ohio but was bored with the suburbs. He’s been quoted saying, “there wasn’t enough action there.” In November Loehmann’s supervisor began the termination process to relieve Loehmann of his duty. They made notes in his personnel file stating, “pattern of lack of maturity,” “indiscretion and not following instruction,” “dangerous loss of composure during live range training,” and “inability to manage personal stress.” Deputy Chief Jim Polak closed the remarks with, “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies.” When Cleveland P.D.’s Human Resources department asked the Independence P.D.’s human resources department if there were any disciplinary actions or reasons to not hire Loehmann they responded with a simple “no.” However, Loehmann’s personnel file was open for them to review. On Loehmann’s application to the Cleveland P.D. he said he left Independence P.D. due to “personal reasons.”

Now that the officers’ backgrounds have been established, let’s move forward and address the facts of Tamir’s day and the information that was relayed prior to his murder. Tamir traded a non-working cellphone to his friend so he could play with his toy gun for the day. Tamir went to the park, as he usually did, to play with his friends. While at the playground they played as young boys would with a toy gun. Shooting plastic pellets at the tires of parked cars and emulating what they felt was the adult “tough guy” way to carry a pistol and act. When I was his age, my friends and I played in similar ways except we all had guns. We’d plan and execute attacks on unsuspecting people and ambush parked cars pretending they were a threat. It was not uncommon to carry a toy gun everywhere we went because we looked forward to our future careers in the military, aspiring to retire as protection agents or as we used to call the profession “bodyguards.”; And, of course, we felt cool.

The afternoon of November 22, there was a man sitting on a bench in the park, drinking a beer, waiting for the bus. This man is the one who called 911 to notify the police of Tamir’s actions. He clearly states twice to the operator, “it’s probably a fake” referencing the gun. He also mentions that Tamir is “probably a juvenile.” The 911 dispatcher put the call out but was met with the majority of officers being busy with other calls. Garmback and Loehmann were investigating a burglary alarm. Which they then deemed secure and proceeded to the playground where Tamir was playing. The information that was relayed to them lacked the scenario of a crime with the description of “it’s probably a fake” and he’s “probably a juvenile.” Dispatcher Mandl was not the one who received the original call so we’re not sure where this information was lost, but it must be brought into question because a young boy was murdered without warning by the police who thought they were en route to engage an armed threat.

Many people are of the opinion that Garmback and Loehmann are racist, trigger-happy cops. That may be true but I do believe there is more going on than what’s being considered. The fact is, pulling up within ten feet of a potentially armed and dangerous suspect is, by far, the dumbest approach Garmback could have used. Tactics flew out the window. When responding to this type of call you are to maintain a safe distance and stay covered while tracking the suspect and giving clear, firm commands. “Drop the weapon,” “put your hands up” or “lay face down on the ground.” Tamir was never given a command. He was only given two shots to his torso. Garmback, as the senior officer, rode in like a cowboy hopped up on John Wayne and put his riding rookie within ten feet of, what they thought to be, an armed threat. So, the mentally unstable rookie opens the door and engaged because his senior officer put him in the position of “primary officer.” David Thomas is a Senior Researcher for the Police Foundation. He’s quoted as saying, “The tactics were very poor. If the driver would have stopped a distance away so that the primary officer wasn’t right there to get involved in the shooting, it may have played out differently.” The Police Foundation said, “the Cleveland Officers should have been trained to take cover when dealing with someone who might be armed and tell the individual to drop the weapon.” Huber William, thirty year police veteran and former President of the Police Foundation agrees the tactics were “terrible.” Garmback, as the senior officer, never should have put Loehmann in such a vulnerable position to be shot at or to use his weapon in self-defense.

Let’s sit back for a moment and take all that in. Frank Garmback, 46 years old, who was hired at the age of 40, after working on an assembly line, delivering alcohol, and working at Home Depot spanning twenty-two years of his life’s experiences. Also, he was denied employment as an officer with a neighboring city. Who then receives an award for shooting and wounding an armed burglar, after three years on the force, half way through his police career. That’s a pretty short career and based on his age I’m sure he felt like super cop. Garmback is then assigned to be a senior officer to Timothy Loehmann. An officer of eight months who is known to say he “wants more action” and suffers from mental instability that renders him incompetent to own, carry or operate a firearm. Loehmann’s Sergeants, Captains, Chiefs and H.R. department heads should have never allowed him to be hired. Especially with a personnel file clearly stating that he lacked the competency to even handle his personal stress. Hard not to assume his father’s resume and reputation didn’t play a role in his employment.

What I’m seeing is a forty-six year old cowboy, who finally became a cop, talking the badass card up to the rookie who is the son of a retired NYPD officer and U.S. Marshall. My personal thoughts bring me to believe the hot rod approach in tactics that occurred that day were pre-planned by the duo and orchestrated by Garmback on the ride over. The senior officer who received an award for shooting an armed robbery suspect. I can hear him now, “Here’s your chance kid.” The killer approach of shooting a “thug” and everyone will love you. I’d almost bet Garmback spoke of the Cleveland Police department awarding Loehmann for his heroic actions. (Of course that is all speculation and personal thoughts of my own. Nowhere has that been said nor am I claiming it to be fact.) This was a chance for Loehmann to make his daddy proud and prove himself to the Independence Police department. Oddly enough the Department of Justice has been investigating the Cleveland police department since 2003 and they have been quoted saying, “too often they (Cleveland P.D.) use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the constitution.”

The bottom line is Loehmann should not have been hired to police the public in any way. Based on the comments in his personnel file he may not even be able to handle the stress of a busy drive-thru. Regardless of his paper test scores your conduct and personal interactions is what kills or saves. The ones to blame for Tamir’s murder are the H.R. departments of both agencies, the Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs from both agencies and the acting senior officer the day Tamir died. Yes, Loehmann pulled the trigger and should be held accountable, however, it is the hierarchy who was responsible for the hiring process of new recruits and the management of the police who allowed him to carry a gun in the capacity of an officer. And now, those same people, including the system of officials that are part of their team, are the ones being trusted to bring justice. The DOJ was actively investigating them and it still happened.

When an officer makes a bad call and lives are lost the officer is then reprimanded, or more often times than not they go unpunished. We tend to forget there are people who are responsible for these officers. It is clear that there are major problems in law enforcement and it begins during the hiring stages. So many guilty officers have had past negative experiences with other departments and are hired regardless. Either the personnel files are not read thoroughly or they are ignored. This has to change. I can’t help but wonder how many of these deaths could have been prevented if there had been due diligence during the hiring process. Those who choose not to research their new recruits show gross neglect. It’s a shame that even the most basic background checks aren’t followed up on. We must also start holding the captains and chiefs accountable. Remember their position is no different than a manager of a food chain. They are the ones who are in command of these officers. If your taco is messed up at Taco Bell you would ask to speak to a manager. Why are the police treated any differently? If they do not know even the basic mental health of their officers, that is a major problem. They should be held responsible for those under their command. They are the leaders of their organization. Yet, in these cases, they face no consequences for their neglect of duty. Do they not have a responsibility to their community to keep them safe by ensuring the people they put in uniform, who are armed and trained with tools to kill and injure, meet the highest standards? I believe that we need to stop seeking instant gratification by only demanding the punishment of the individual officers who actually pulled the trigger. Those that allow and sometimes condone these atrocious acts need to be investigated, as well. If we do not investigate the entire chain of command we will never stop the problem. We will keep running into over-armed and under-trained problematic officers who will just come and go. The city will throw some money at the problem to satisfy the family and community without truly combating this growing problem. Those in the highest positions should be held to the highest standards. It’s time that they are held accountable. Bad cops are the products of a terrible system. Stop focusing on the symptoms and begin focusing on the disease.

This report was prepared by the team of Awakened Media.