Cop Who Killed Tamir Rice Briefly Hired by Small Pennsylvania Town
After community outrage and the mayor saying he wasn't told about Timothy Loehmann's policing background, the officer withdrew his application.
A town of fewer than 1,000 people in northern Pennsylvania hired the former police officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and the murky circumstances of his hiring have prompted outrage, protests, and ultimately the officer's withdrawal of his application.
On Tuesday, the council for Tioga swore Timothy Loehmann in as an officer after a unanimous vote in favor of his hiring.
In 2014, Loehmann was one of the officers responding to a 911 call about somebody in a Cleveland park holding a gun. The caller thought the gun might be fake, but this information was not relayed to cops. Rice, who was 12, was indeed in the park playing with what turned out to be a fake gun. When Loehmann, a rookie cop, arrived on the scene, he exited the police car and shot Rice almost immediately, giving the boy no opportunity to surrender.
The Cleveland police's terrible handling of the situation inspired national protests. Loehmann was ultimately fired from the police department, but not for shooting Rice. Loehmann was never charged with a crime for the reckless circumstances of the shooting (the county prosecutor even attempted to discourage charges against Loehmann and was later bounced out of office by voters). Loehmann was actually fired for lying to the Cleveland Division of Police about the circumstances surrounding his departure from his previous job as a police officer in Independence, Ohio. He concealed that he was forced to resign or be fired in 2012 after being deemed "unfit for duty" for his "dismal" handgun skills and apparent emotional instability. In 2020, the Department of Justice announced it would not be filing federal charges against Loehmann for the shooting.
The details of how Loehmann has ended up as a police officer again are a bit muddled and troubling. The story appears to have been broken by the Williamsport Post-Gazette. Correspondent Garrett Carr interviewed Tioga Mayor David Wilcox and people who had shown up at Tioga borough offices to protest after finding out what happened on Facebook after Loehmann was sworn in. Wilcox said he attended interviews of Loehmann but wasn't "allowed" to see the applications prior to his vote and didn't know who Loehmann was but was told that he had been subjected to a thorough background check.
Even more troubling, Carr says local press were told his name was "Lochmann," not Loehmann, and Wilcox also said he had been told a different name. It was only after Borough Council President Steve Hazlett posted an image on Facebook of Loehmann's swearing in Tuesday evening that the truth came out. Protests followed the next day.
Hazlett's photo of Loehmann's swearing in was deleted from Facebook earlier today. And the website for Tioga now has a statement from officials that Loehmann is already gone: "Effective this morning Timothy Loehmann has officially with drawn his application for Tioga Borough Police Officer."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has attempted to reach out to Hazlett for an explanation of what has happened and hasn't gotten a response. As of Wednesday, Carr has been unable to get comments from Hazlett or another council member about how Loehmann ended up getting hired. The entire borough's office is closed until next week.
Wilcox appears to agree with those who are angry at Loehmann's hiring (despite his own role in it). He told them at the protest that as the person responsible for creating Loehmann's work schedule, he would make sure the officer wasn't put out on patrol.
This isn't the first time Loehmann attempted to get back onto a police force. He resurfaced again in 2018 when he was hired to join the Bellaire, Ohio, police force, but subsequently left it as well. It is unfortunately not an unusual event for a police officer with a bad history on one police force to move somewhere else and attempt to get hired again. Loehmann has a much higher profile because of the national outrage Rice's killing evoked. But it's an ongoing problem that police officers with histories of misconduct find ways to conceal their behavior (up until recently, disciplinary records of police officers in states like New York and California were kept secret under law), shift around to new cities and towns, and get new jobs on other police forces.
In May, President Joe Biden included a plan for a national database to keep track of problem cops in an executive order. However, it will be used primarily to screen applicants for federal law enforcement jobs. It will be made accessible to local police and they'll be "encouraged to enter their records," but the administration doesn't actually have the authority to mandate local or state participation.
The good news here is that the community and media saw what was going on and responded, and it appears that the town's mayor is not happy at what seems to have been deception. Given the community's response, Loehmann's quiet exit is not a surprise. But don't be surprised when he tries yet again to get hired by another small police force unaware of his past.