COLUMBUS, Ohio (WRBL) — A police officer who while responding to a reported armed robbery was placed on administrative leave amid calls for calm while the shooting was being investigated, officials say Thursday.
Police records say the reported robbery was over $10. In a recorded 911 call, the robbery victim calmly indicates that he wasn’t going to make a big deal over $10 but that other witnesses called to report what happened.
Sirens are heard moments later as police search for the suspects. Then an unidentified witness overhears gunfire and tells a dispatcher: “He’s shooting him! Oh, my God!”
The officer opened fire when the teen pulled from his waistband a BB gun that looked “practically identical” to a police weapon, Police Chief Kim Jacobs says.
Because the officer was white and the boy black, the case has brought inevitable comparisons with the 2014 fatal shooting in Cleveland of 12-year-old. Columbus police are early in their investigation but say the differences in the Wednesday night shooting of Tyre King and the Cleveland case are stark.
“The only thing similar in nature is the age, race and outcome,” says Columbus police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner. “The facts are not similar, and that must be reiterated.”
Officers investigating the armed robbery report on Wednesday spotted three males east of downtown Columbus who matched the description of the suspects, authorities says. Two of them ran away when officers tried to speak with them.
The police chased the pair into a nearby alley and tried to take them into custody. That’s when Tyre pulled out a gun, and one officer fired his weapon, hitting the boy repeatedly, police say.
Tyre died at a children’s hospital. Authorities identified the officer who fired as a nine-year veteran of the force named Bryan Mason.
In a December 2012 case, Mason shot and killed a man who was holding another man at gunpoint. Officers say the armed man refused orders to drop his weapon and was shot. The Columbus Dispatch reported that investigators concluded Mason acted within policy in that case.
A message seeking comment was left with the head of the police union representing Mason.
At a news conference Thursday, Jacobs displayed a photo of what she called a “replica” of the BB gun that Tyre had.
“Our officers carry a gun that looks practically identical to this weapon,” she says. “As you can see, it looks like a firearm that could kill you.”
Mason has been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, per department protocol, Jacobs says. He will be on administrative leave for about a week. CBS affiliate WBNS-TV reports he will see a mental health professional before he returns to work.
“We consider it a tragedy when something like this happens,” Jacobs tells reporters. “This is the last thing that a police officer wants to do in their career.”
An attorney for Tyre’s family called for a fair and independent investigation into the boy’s death.
Sean Walton declined to discuss any previous interaction Tyre had with police, but he emphasized that Tyre didn’t have any violent criminal history. He says the family believed that Tyre being involved in an armed robbery would be “so out of character” for him.
Tyre played football and was in the young scholars program at school, Walton says. The boy also had a slight build and, if anything, was on the small side for his age, the attorney says.
Authorities say it wasn’t clear if the shooting was caught on surveillance or cellphone video. Columbus police don’t use body cameras.
Democratic Mayor Andrew Ginther appeared to choke up as he called for the community to come together to help ensure children remain safe. He questioned why an eighth-grader would have a replica of a police firearm.
“There is something wrong in this country, and it is bringing its epidemic to our city streets,” Ginther says. “And a 13-year-old is dead in the city of Columbus because of our obsession with guns and violence.”
Neighborhood resident Chris Naderer says he was home at the time and heard someone break fencing in his backyard, then saw an officer chasing two young black men and heard several gunshots.
“I just think it was bad circumstances that he had a gun,” Naderer says.
Police reviewing evidence from the scene determined the boy’s firearm was actually a BB gun with an attached laser sight.
The male who had been with Tyre was interviewed and released pending further investigation, police say. They provided no further information about him.
Police say additional suspects were being sought as the shooting and reported robbery remained under investigation.
The police chief says it was too soon to draw comparisons between Tyre’s death and the Tamir Rice case.
There was no chase in Tamir’s case. A caller reported someone pointing a gun at people near a recreation center, and a rookie officer shot Tamir almost immediately after his police cruiser stopped nearby. The caller had said the person was likely a juvenile and the weapon was probably fake, but the call taker never passed that information to the dispatcher of the responding officers.
In that case, the grand jury concluded that the officer and his partner reasonably believed that it was a real gun and that their lives were in danger, prosecutors said.
It was “indisputable” that the boy was drawing the pistol from his waistband when he was shot, Tim McGinty, Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said at the time. He said Tamir was trying to either hand the weapon over to police or show them it wasn’t real, but the patrolmen had no way of knowing that.
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