AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Department of Justice has announced it will not charge any of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when police killed him near a playground in Cleveland more than six years ago. Outrage over his story helped propel the Black Lives Matter movement, and no one has been prosecuted for his death. Michael Balsamo has been covering the story for the Associated Press, and he joins us now.
MICHAEL BALSAMO: Thank you for having me.
CHANG: Well, thank you for being here. Can we just start with today's news? Why did the Justice Department ultimately decide not to bring charges against these police officers?
BALSAMO: Sure. So basically, what the Justice Department did today was they formally closed their investigation that's been going on for several years. And in coming to that decision, you know, in closing this very high-profile matter, they basically said that they don't - you know, the statement that they released didn't condone the officers' actions, but instead, they said the cumulative evidence that they had collected was just not enough to support the very high burden of a federal criminal civil rights prosecution.
CHANG: OK. And explain what that very high burden particularly is. What's the standard?
BALSAMO: Sure. Yeah. So when the Justice Department examines cases like this in order to prove whether or not a police officer violated a federal civil rights law, the Justice Department has to basically conclude that an officer's actions were willful. So they went beyond just being a mistake, negligence or bad judgment - that they willfully broke the law. That's the standard that's currently in place under federal law.
CHANG: OK. And presumably then they said that they didn't have the evidence to support a finding of willfulness. Have you heard at this point from Tamir Rice's family about this decision by the Justice Department?
BALSAMO: We've heard from an attorney for his family who said that they were disappointed in this decision. Obviously, Tamir Rice's mother had come out back in October after The New York Times reported that this case had been effectively closed by the Justice Department, though the formal announcement from DOJ came today. And basically, what the family has said is, you know, they want the Justice Department to be more transparent here, although, you know, the statement that we saw from DOJ today kind of went beyond the norm of what the Justice Department normally provides when they close investigations like this. They really took some care here to spell out some of the reasoning, likely because this is - was such a high-profile case.
BALSAMO: But basically, what Rice's family was saying is that they want to know more about how the investigation worked, what decisions were made by career prosecutors, whether or not recommendations were made, you know, by those kind of career civil rights prosecutors and what came of that.
CHANG: OK. So also, you know, no charges were brought at the state level against these officers. The city of Cleveland did settle a lawsuit - a civil lawsuit with the Rice family. But in terms of the criminal justice system, is this pretty much the end of the road for this particular case?
BALSAMO: It is. I mean, you know, when people kind of think of the federal aspect in cases like this of the - you know, what the federal government's involvement is, you know, it's important to kind of keep in mind that there is that really high burden on the federal level. And certainly, we've seen, you know, legislation be introduced. The bill that was passed in the House, the Justice in Policing Act, would have changed the law there to no longer require prosecutors to prove that an officer's actions were willful, but that has stalled in the Senate. But, you know, in this particular case, prosecutors were making very clear here that surveillance video just wasn't of the high quality that they would need to conclusively determine whether or not Tamir Rice was reaching for a toy gun before he was shot by the officer.
CHANG: Michael Balsamo is the lead Justice Department and federal law enforcement writer for the AP.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
BALSAMO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.