UPDATED: 2:15 p.m. ET
A town leader in rural Pennsylvania called Tamir Rice “dumb” and blamed him for his own killing years before Tioga Borough hired the disgraced former police officer who gunned down the 12-year-old Black boy within seconds of seeing him in Cleveland in 2014.
Tioga Borough Council President Steve Hazlett is the one who announced on Wednesday that Timothy Loehmann had been hired as a “new Tioga police officer.” Following outrage and backlash, the town announced less than 24 hours later that Loehmann had withdrawn his application to be an officer there.
Loehmann, of course, is the same former Cleveland police officer who mistook the pellet gun Rice was playing with in a park for a real firearm before fatally shooting the unwitting child on sight in broad daylight.
A little more than a year after the shooting, Hazlett took to Facebook to disparage Rice as a “dumb” person and suggest he invited his own death.
“Dumb enough to pull a fake gun, dumb enough to get shot……,” Hazlett wrote on Dec. 30, 2015. The Facebook post linked to an apparent news article with the headline: “Can YOU Tell Which One Of These Is A Fake Gun? It’s The One Tamir Rice Was Holding.”
As of Thursday morning, Hazlett’s Facebook post was still live. NewsOne took a screenshot in case it gets deleted.
It was in that context that Hazlett announced Loehmann’s hiring by posting a photo of the police officer being sworn in.
Hazlett’s past comments about Rice suggest that Loehmann was knowingly hired in spite of — or because — he was notorious for killing a 12-year-old Black boy.
Conversely, Tioga Borough Mayor David Wilcox said he was blindsided by the hiring of Loehmann and was not involved in any part of the process.
“I want to personally assure everyone that I had zero knowledge of the candidate that we just hired for our police department,” Wilcox said Wednesday during an apparent makeshift press conference that was recorded and posted on Facebook. “I was told that there was an extensive background check, numerous phone calls made and there were no negative marks on his record and that he would be a great candidate for this town.”
Wilcox said he thought it was weird that Hazlett would have Loehmann sworn in “because we don’t swear anyone in anymore” in Tioga County, which has a population that is more than 97% white and less than 1% Black, according to Census data.
Wilcox said it’s up to the Council to hire, fire and set pay rates for police officers.
“It is their job to vet these people and go through background checks and hire the proper candidate for the job,” Wilcox said.
When pressed about what Loehmann’s background check entailed, what with Google providing a wealth of information about Tamir Rice’s killing, Wilcox referred reporters to Hazlett.
“No one has spoken a word to me,” he said about the Council.
Wilcox said he previously had “no knowledge” of Loehmann’s past.
He encouraged local residents to demand an emergency Council meeting as soon as possible.
“I believe the town and council need to come to a peaceful resolution for how to move forward with this,” Wilcox said. The earliest that could happen is Friday, he said.
Wilcox said Loehmann would not be on active duty until that happens.
“In my mind, [Loehmann won’t start] anytime before we have a sit down with Council and the town,” added Wilcox, who said he sets the schedules for town police officers.
“At this point it’s not happening,” he said of Loehmann starting the job before adding: “I don’t want this to tear our town apart.”
Tamir Rice’s story has been well documented.
On November 22, 2014, Rice was killed while playing in a park with an Airsoft pellet gun. A resident called 911 believing the gun may have been real. Loehmann and his partner Officer Frank Garmback responded to the call. Video of the incident caused widespread outrage not just because of Rice’s age, but also because he was shot within seconds of police arriving on the scene. The police cruiser was still moving when Loehmann shot Rice on the spot.
Following the shooting, Loehmann escaped criminal charges and returned to work until he was fired in 2017 when it came to light that he had resigned from a previous department after six months when several supervisors determined he was unfit to be a police officer. Loehmann was even rehired at another Ohio department, which then rescinded the offer after facing massive backlash.
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to “support federal criminal charges against Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.”
The following year, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected Loehmann’s appeal advocating for his reinstatement to the Cleveland Police Department.
Tamir Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, rejoiced at the ruling.
“I am glad that Loehmann will never have a badge and gun in Cleveland again,” Samaria Rice, who has been a tireless champion seeking justice for her son, said at the time in a statement.
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