CLEVELAND (CN) – The NAACP’s Cleveland branch asked the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to release all grand jury transcripts in the investigation into the police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, arguing the process may have been tainted by a former prosecutor.
The civil rights organization and three of its members – the Rev. Kyle Earley, the Rev. Larry Howard and Michelle Kenney – filed a petition Tuesday, arguing the release of the transcripts is of “great public interest,” and would provide a valuable opportunity for the NAACP and the general public to “appreciate and understand how their government operates.”
Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot and killed by a white Cleveland police officer on Nov. 22, 2014, just seconds after the officer’s patrol car pulled to a stop in the park where the boy had been playing alone with a realistic-looking toy gun.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury investigated the shooting for several months and ultimately declined to pursue criminal charges against the officer who shot Rice, Timothy Loehmann, or the supervising officer who drove the patrol car, Frank Garmback.
The grand jury’s decision not to seek criminal charges against the officers responsible for Rice’s death prompted six days of peaceful protests by local activists, religious leaders and community members, many of whom blamed the grand jury’s decision on then-Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty.
In a 74-page report, McGinty recommended against indicting Loehmann and Garmback after his office had reviewed multiple investigations conducted by local law enforcement agencies and determined that the officers’ actions, while tragic, were justified given the circumstances of the encounter and the information they were provided by the dispatcher.
Attorneys for the Rice family repeatedly accused McGinty of tainting the grand jury process by soliciting expert testimony that was biased in favor of the police and then releasing it to the public.
McGinty was also criticized for allowing Loehmann and Garmback to present prepared statements to the grand jury without facing any cross-examination.
In its petition for the release of grand jury transcripts, the NAACP argues that the nature of Rice’s case, the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings, and the former prosecutor’s reckless and unorthodox release of information throughout the investigation “decimated public faith in a system that depends upon the public’s faith to function.”
The NAACP said it approved of McGinty’s desire for transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system, but also said that “all potential for the admirable and necessary goals of transparency is destroyed and undermined when a prosecutor uses the secrecy of the grand jury process to embark on this journey as a solo act.”
“Indeed, petitioners submit that it is an abuse of process and manipulation of the grand jury process to use the grand jury as a tool for one’s personal crusade for reform. The consequences of such abuses have the real potential of shattering the faith of the public in the grand jury investigation into the death of Tamir Rice and, unless the full transcripts are released, the public’s right to know and appreciate their criminal justice system will be circumvented,” according to a memo supporting the petition.
The NAACP’s Cleveland branch is represented by in-house attorneys Michael Nelson Sr. and James Hardiman.
A phone call seeking comment from the current Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Michael O’Malley, was not immediately returned Wednesday.