Editors are attempting to explain why an Ohio newspaper published an investigative story examining the criminal background of a family whose 12-year-old son was fatally shot by police while playing with a replica gun.
Video released Wednesday shows two officers pull up last weekend to a Cleveland recreation center, where 911 callers had reported someone pointing a gun at others.
One of the officers shoots and kills Tamir Rice within seconds of arrival.
Police said they ordered the boy to raise his hands three times before he reached for his pellet gun.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer published a stand-alone article Wednesday morning on the criminal record of the boy’s father, bluntly echoing in the first sentence what the headline announced: “Tamir Rice’s father has a history of violence against women.”
The Plain Dealer’s Brandon Blackwell reported that the boy’s father, Leonard Warner, had multiple convictions for domestic violence-related charges and that his mother had convictions for assault and drug trafficking.
Readers and media critics pounced on the piece, which the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s vice president for content defended Thursday morning in a column.
“Our reporters at NEOMG have been looking into Tamir’s background, to see if he lived a life exposed to violence that could explain why it might be normal for him to randomly aim what looks like a real gun in a public place,” wrote Chris Quinn, the vice president for content.
The newspaper added a line to the original article Wednesday afternoon to explain its origins.
“People from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence,” the newspaper added.
Another reporter posted a brief explanation on Twitter.
“Gives small window into this young boy’s life,” tweeted Mark Naymik, a reporter and columnist for the Plain Dealer. “A frame of reference, perhaps for why he had toy gun?”
Another employee sent a letter to all of his colleagues criticizing the publication of the “shameful” article.
“Who are the ‘people from across the region’ asking that question?” the employee wrote. “More importantly, how is it relevant to Tamir Rice’s death?”
“It isn’t. It simply isn’t,” the employee continued. “And adding a paragraph after-the-fact to try to justify your actions is borderline insulting.”
Quinn pointed out that the Plain Dealer had been closely scrutinizing the use of force by Cleveland police for at least three years, when it published a series on the department, and he said the paper had pushed for the release of the video.
He also said the newspaper would investigate the backgrounds of the two officers.
“At the Northeast Ohio Media Group, we have a huge role in that process, by offering as much illumination as possible and asking hard, sometimes uncomfortable questions of those in authority,” Quinn said. “So far, I think we’ve done that.”