Chief defends Ohio cop who shot 12-year-old boy

Robert MacPherson

Washington (AFP) - The chief of police in the US city of Cleveland on Monday defended the conduct of an officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old boy who was wielding a replica handgun.

Tamir Rice died in hospital early Sunday after two police officers, responding to a 911 emergency call, confronted the African-American youngster at a recreation center.

"There is no time that a Cleveland police officer wants to go out and shoot a kid, period," Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams told a press conference.

He said the officer, whose name or race he did not disclose, and who has been placed on administrative leave, was "broken up about this."

But he stood by the officer's conduct, saying "he had to protect himself" in the face of what appeared to be, in the heat of the moment, to be a genuine firearm.

"The investigation -- all the video evidence, all the scientific evidence -- will show everyone exactly what happened," he said.

Williams urged parents to educate youngsters on the dangers of all weapons, including convincing replicas like the so-called "airsoft" pellet gun Rice had been carrying.

"Our kids need to know that guns aren't toys," he said.

Visiting the scene of the shooting, the boy's father, Gregory Henderson, questioned why police didn't use a Taser electric stun gun in lieu of lethal force.

"Why not taze him?" said Henderson, who remembered his son as a "respectful" lad, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper reported.


-- Boy shot twice --


Rice was shot twice, including once in the torso.

The incident came as Americans awaited a grand jury's decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the St Louis, Missouri suburb of Ferguson for the fatal shooting in August of black teenager Michael Brown.

That shooting, in a majority black community with an overwhelmingly white police force and city council, prompted a national debate about race and law enforcement.

"Ferguson being out there, not being out there, doesn't matter to me," said Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson at the same press conference.

"It's about the child, the loss of his life, the grieving of the family" and the ability of the community to overcome a tragedy, he said.

In a statement on Sunday, police said the two officers, one of them a rookie, upon arriving at the Cudell Recreation Center, "located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands."

"The suspect did not comply with the officers' orders and reached to his waistband for the gun," it said, adding: "Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso."

"Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12-year-old suspect was in possession of is an 'airsoft' type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed."

The caller to 911 who initiated the police response said once that a juvenile was involved, and twice that the gun was "probably fake."

Timothy Kucharski, a lawyer for the Rice family, said the boy never pointed the replica gun at the officers, the Plain Dealer reported.


-- Investigation unfolds --


Williams said Monday that in the days to come, witnesses will be interviewed, video reviewed, forensic evidence examined and a statement taken from the officer concerned.

Once that is completed, the police chief added, "all evidence" will be turned over to local prosecutors, within a 60-day timeframe.

Ohio witnessed a similar case in August, when police responding to a 911 call shot and killed a black man in a Walmart who was carrying a toy gun sold in the store.

Ohio state lawmaker Alicia Reese said Sunday she would introduce a bill to require all toy guns to be either brightly colored or bear prominent fluorescent stripes.

Meanwhile, the online activist group Anonymous, in a YouTube video, claimed responsibility for a cyberattack that knocked out the Cleveland city website Monday.

On social media, commentators noted the irony of police shooting a boy with a replica gun in Ohio -- one of several US states where openly carrying a firearm is legal.