CLEVELAND — A group of civil rights leaders and activists, impatient with the pace of justice, plan to submit affidavits Tuesday that ask a judge to decide if there's probable cause to charge two white Cleveland police officers in the fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun.
If a judge agrees, members of the group said, a city prosecutor would be responsible for filing charges stemming from the death of Tamir Rice outside a recreation center on Nov. 22. Those behind the effort say people outside of law enforcement are charged in court every day based on probable cause determinations that a crime has occurred.
"The boy was killed over six months ago," said Edward Little, who described himself as criminal justice consultant. "We really need the court to move one way or another."
Little and a civil rights attorney said there is a state statute and case law that permit ordinary citizens to ask for charges to be filed when they have knowledge or possess evidence that a crime has occurred. Ohio law says a private citizen can file an affidavit with a clerk of courts that asks a judge to determine if a prosecutor should file a criminal complaint. The venue in this instance is Cleveland Municipal Court.
"We're saying there's enough probable cause to charge them with a crime that we've identified," said civil rights attorney and NAACP official Michael Nelson.
Little and Nelson say the evidence that shows a crime occurred is footage from a surveillance camera that shows rookie Cleveland patrolman Timothy Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of a police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy outside a city recreation center. Tamir had an airsoft-type gun that shoots nonlethal plastic pellets tucked in the waistband of his pants.
Nelson said charges could range from aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, to negligent homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor.
"We had a two-second shooting involving a young man who had broken no laws," he said. "You don't have to look at forensics. You don't have to interview a significant group of witnesses."
Cleveland officials asked the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department in January to investigate the shooting. The sheriff said last week the investigative file had been given to the county prosecutor. A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office issued a statement Tuesday that said the investigation isn't finished and that evidence and expert analysis will be presented to a grand jury when the probe is completed.
If the group pushing for criminal charges succeeds with its affidavits and the officers are charged with felonies, the case would still have to go through the county prosecutor's office for a grand jury presentation.
A city prosecutor in Baltimore recently charged six city police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, who died of a spinal cord injury a week after he was arrested. The case has not yet gone to a grand jury.