Cleveland leaders apologize over blaming boy for own death

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson_126439

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson discusses a U.S. Justice Department report on the city’s police department during a news conference in Cleveland Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. The report strongly criticized the police department for a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND (AP) – Cleveland’s mayor apologized on Monday after the city’s lawyers suggested in court documents that a 12-year-old boy who had a pellet gun when he was shot by police died as a result of his own actions.

Mayor Frank Jackson said the city’s response to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Tamir Rice’s family was poorly worded and offensive.

“We used words and we phrased things in such a way that was very insensitive,” the mayor said.

The court documents filed late last week by the city said Tamir’s injuries and the subsequent complaints for damages stemmed from his actions and failure “to exercise due care to avoid injury.” It similarly said the “injuries, losses and damages” cited for his relatives in the complaint “were directly and proximately caused by their own acts,” not by the city.

Jackson said that he’s talked with representatives of Tamir’s family, and that the city plans to alter the wording in the documents within the next three weeks.

“We are sincerely apologetic for our misuse and mischaracterization of our answer to that complaint,” he said.

The city said in response to the federal lawsuit that it didn’t violate Tamir’s federal rights and that it is entitled to certain legal immunities.

One of the family’s attorneys, Walter Madison, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that the complaint has merit.

“I do believe that a 12-year-old child died unnecessarily at the hands of Cleveland police officers and I do believe that certain officers shouldn’t have been entitled to wear the uniform,” he said.

Tamir was shot in the abdomen by an officer responding to a call about someone with a firearm near a recreation center on Nov. 22. The officer fired within two seconds of the police car stopping nearby, and the confrontation was captured on surveillance video. Tamir had been carrying what turned out to be an airsoft-type gun that shoots non-lethal plastic pellets.

The federal lawsuit alleges excessive force, negligence, infliction of emotional distress on his sister and mother, violation of due process for the parents, and failure by the responding officers to immediately provide first aid to the boy, who died the next day. It also claims false imprisonment of Tamir’s 14-year-old sister, who ran toward the scene after the shooting, struggled with police and was handcuffed and put into a cruiser parked near her wounded brother.

The Cuyahoga County sheriff’s department is investigating the shooting. A prosecutor has promised that a grand jury will consider whether the case merits criminal charges.

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