Tioga, Pa., did not do a background check before hiring Tamir Rice’s killer

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The small Pennsylvania town that hired the former police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 did not conduct a background check required by law before being hired last week, according to the attorney general’s office.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) wrote to Tioga, Pennsylvania Borough President Steve Hazlett on Friday to inform him the city had violated the state‘s Law 57 by hiring Timothy Loehmann without to enter his name through a database identifying previous disciplinary actions. according to the letter Shapiro’s office provided to the Washington Post.

Loehmann — who was shot as Cleveland police officer Rice and later fired for omitting relevant information from his application — resigned Thursday, two days after Hazlett and the borough council voted unanimously to hire him as Tioga’s only police officer.

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Since the police killing of George Floyd, state legislation has been enacted, including Pennsylvania Law 57, to address the issue of officers fired for misconduct being reinstated in a different jurisdiction or, in some cases, in the same city. Shapiro wrote in his letter that state records show that Tioga, a county in northern Pennsylvania of about 700 people, never had Loehmann’s name on the database.

“Act 57 was passed to ensure departments are fully aware of a candidate’s history of misconduct and the resulting disciplinary action – to prevent the kind of circumstances that are common in your county with the hiring of Timothy Loehmann and his subsequent withdrawal of his application occurred.” Shapiro wrote. “To be clear, failure to thoroughly background check a potential hire, including searching the database for prior disciplinary actions, is a violation of state law.”

Shapiro added that Hazlett’s “failure to conduct this required scrutiny undermines public confidence in your leadership and public confidence in the officer you ultimately select.”

A spokesman declined to comment on whether the attorney general would take further action against the city.

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Hazlett and his wife, MaryBess Hazlett, who also served on the ward council, submitted their letters of resignation on Friday, according to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Neither she nor Mayor David Wilcox responded to requests for comment from The Post. County Attorney Jeffrey Loomis declined to comment.

The appointment has upset the small town and split the government. Wilcox wrote on Facebook that Hazlett and other council members had misled him into thinking the city was hiring an officer named “Timothy Lochmann.” The fake name was also previously disclosed to the Sun Gazette and other local media Loehmann’s swearing-in on Tuesday.

Wilcox told a group of residents gathered to protest the hiring that he had “no knowledge” of Loehmann’s background and had been told a “extensive background check” had been conducted, according to a Wellsboro official Gazette published video. Wilcox informed residents that the borough council had sole authority to hire and fire officers.

After the Attorney General sent his letter, Wilcox wrote on Facebook that Hazlett had previously texted him Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony that he received the okay to swear in Loehmann from the City Police Officers Education and Training Commission, which certifies Pennsylvania police officers and maintains the disciplinary database.

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Hazlett admitted to the Sun-Gazette Thursday that he knew Loehmann’s background when the council voted to hire him, but said Wilcox also knew of the officer’s past. Hazlett told NBC affiliate 18 News that Wilcox had access to all of the information on Loehmann’s story and “never opened any of it.”

Amid protests over the hiring, local residents have also pointed out that Hazlett appears to have made a post on Facebook in 2015 mocking Rice’s death. In December 2015, Hazlett published an article about Rice’s death on a right-wing news website with the headline: “Stupid enough to pull out a fake gun, stupid enough to get shot…”

Loehmann shot and killed Rice on November 22, 2014, seconds after arriving at Cleveland Park, where the 12-year-old was playing with an air pistol. Police have said the toy looked identical to a real gun. The killing sparked national outrage and protests in late 2014 and early 2015 when high-profile police shootings of black people broke out.

A grand jury declined to indict Loehmann in Rice’s death, and the city fired him in 2017 for failing to disclose in his application that he left his previous police officer job in Independence, Ohio, due to “an inability to function emotionally.” would have . Loehmann was hired as a part-time civil servant in Bellaire, Ohio, in 2018, but withdrew his application a few days later due to backlash over the hiring.

Raff Donelson, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, said Pennsylvania’s Act 57 is one of the first in a wave of similar bills across the country following Floyd’s killing.

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Donelson said Act 57 was generally created to address situations like Tioga’s hiring of Loehmann, although noting that Loehmann’s firing occurred in Ohio and involved the omission of information in a job application, it has not necessarily been included in the Pennsylvania database would. The state’s database only includes files from other states on a voluntary basis, Donelson said, and the law specifies specific types of misconduct that result in inclusion in the database, such as: B. Using excessive force or submitting a false report.

He added that Act 57 has been criticized for lacking an enforcement mechanism, which may be why Shapiro chose to send a letter to Tioga officials.

Donelson said a federal police misconduct database is needed to ensure officers fired for misconduct don’t “slip through the cracks” by traveling to another state. In May, President Biden signed an executive order creating a national database and encouraging all departments to use it. However, because states and localities are free to set their own rules for hiring civil servants, local government agencies are not required to use the database.

Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, said the finding that Tioga officials failed to conduct the required background check “shows how the system is repeatedly broken.”

“They need to do a better job in this country of finding out where these law enforcement officers are coming from, what their background is,” she said.

Rice said Tioga’s decision to hire Loehmann put “people’s lives at risk.”

“No one in the whole country should hire him if there’s no background check,” she said. “Even if you go to McDonald’s, they will ask for your references. I mean come on – that’s ridiculous.”

Subodh Chandra, the attorney for Rice’s family and estate, said he will continue to monitor the circumstances behind Loehmann’s hiring.

“What we want to know is what Loehmann told county officials and when he told them, as well as what they knew and didn’t want to know,” Chandra said. “There has yet to be a reckoning and reckoning.”

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