CLEVELAND • Samaria Rice is trying to find a path forward for herself and her family two years after her 12-year-old son, Tamir, was fatally shot by police while holding a pellet gun at the city recreation where he played nearly every day.
Rice is working to create a foundation in Tamir's name to provide scholarships and mentor children using a portion of what she's owed from the city of Cleveland in a $6 million settlement of a federal civil rights lawsuit, she told The Associated Press in an interview last week.
Rice said she agreed to settle instead of going to trial after the judge advised that the money could help her and her family — three older children and a young grandchild — start to heal.
"It's disturbing that I had to put a price on my son, that I was forced to make a decision I didn't want to make," Rice said. "I don't wish that decision on nobody."
She keeps an urn with Tamir's ashes and some of his belongings in a curio cabinet that she said she'll take with her when she finally moves out of the state.
"I'm not leaving him in Ohio when I leave," she said.
Rice, 39, struggles with grief but also with anger and frustration that no one has been held accountable for Tamir's death and with what she said are the racially driven fears of officers who injudiciously kill members of what she calls the "black and brown community."
"I believe if my son was white, he would probably still be here," Rice said. "There is no reason for my son to be dead."
Rookie patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who is white, shot Tamir, who was black, less than two seconds after a cruiser driven by patrolman Frank Garmback, Loehmann's training officer, skidded to a stop a few feet from Tamir outside the Cudell Recreation Center on Nov. 22, 2014. Tamir died the next day. The shooting was caught on surveillance video.
The two officers had gone to the recreation center on a high-priority "gun run" after a man drinking beer and waiting for a bus at the recreation center called 911 to report that a "guy" was pointing a gun at people.
The caller also told the 911 dispatcher that the guy was probably a juvenile and the gun might be "fake," information never relayed to the two officers, who told investigators Loehmann shouted three times at Tamir to raise his hands before firing.
Samaria Rice's attorneys have argued Loehmann fired so quickly that Tamir would never have been able to respond if in fact the officer shouted anything.
Tamir's case became one of the highest-profile in a string of killings of black males by police that have drawn attention to racial relations with law enforcement around the country.
The Cuyahoga County prosecutor announced in December 2015 that Loehmann and Garmback wouldn't be indicted after telling a grand jury there wasn't evidence to support criminal charges. The U.S. Department of Justice subsequently announced it would review the case. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Cleveland said last week that the review is "ongoing."
Samaria Rice insists the two officers should be tried and convicted, something that appears improbable at best. But she at least wants them fired and is livid that the city o has yet to announce how Loehmann and Garback will be disciplined.
"I'm just disgusted with the city of Cleveland and how they're not afraid for their citizens with these police officers on the loose," Rice said.
City spokesman Dan Williams didn't respond to telephone and email messages about the disciplinary process for the officers.
"She is not only grieving over the loss of her son, but over the failure of many government systems to address the problem," said Samaria Rice's attorney Subodh Chandra. "She can't understand how government can fail at every level like this."
Police were surprised to learn after the shooting that Tamir, who was big for his age, was only 12. Samaria Rice called Tamir her "big gentle giant" who liked watching "Clifford the Big Red Dog," playing with Legos and filling in his coloring books.
"That was my mama's boy," Rice said. "He'd still let me hold him, kiss on him, hug him, even at 12 years old."