Sam Allard / Scene
Jackson addresses the media in early 2016.
Mayor Frank Jackson and city officials attempted to explain the Tamir Rice billing debacle in a press conference Thursday morning.
Jackson stressed that no bill was ever sent to Tamir Rice's family and that the city had no intention of collecting money from the Rice estate for Tamir's emergency transport after he was shot by a Cleveland police officer at Cudell Park in November, 2014.
The bill, a creditor's claim filed in probate court
, reported by Scene
and others Wednesday, showed that the city was asking for $500 from the Tamir Rice estate for "the decedent's last dying expense."
Jackson said that a bill is always generated when emergency transport is thus used, and that it is sent to the insurer. In this instance, the insurer was Medicaid, who paid about $180.
Finance Director Sharon Dumas said the city absorbed the remainder of the cost and that the file was then closed.
"We never sent a bill to the Rice family. We never intended to send a bill to the Rice family. We never wanted to collect money from the Rice family," Jackson said.
He said that but for a request from Douglas Winston, the executor of the Tamir Rice estate — a request that Cleveland's chief legal counsel Rick Horvath said Winston was legally obligated to make — the city never would have re-opened the claim. Jackson said that the request should have been red-flagged. He attributed the oversight to the rigors of routine.
"We collect $12-15 million per year from insurance companies on this," Jackson said. "Nothing happened here other than people doing what they do every day. People don't look at every little thing. When you get into a bureaucratic routine, there's always things that slip through the cracks."
Jackson said that the city intends to withdraw the claim and will do so promptly, but according to their standard processes. He and others sincerely apologized if the claim — which he would not categorize as a mistake — added to the Rice family's grief and pain.
Though it appears to be mostly for effect given the city's insistence that they will withdraw, the attorney representing Samaria Rice in relation to the probate proceedings sent a letter to the city Thursday. He demanded that they withdraw the claim and confirmed that it had indeed added to Rice's grief and pain:
"To say that [Samaria Rice], as a grieving mother, has had a difficult time dealing with the tragic circumstances of her son's death, is an understatement," attorney Adam Fried wrote in his letter. "It is curious that more than a year after Tamir died, you chose to rip wider these ugly wounds by filing a time barred claim."
The city would say that they chose to do no such thing. When asked, repeatedly, why no one in the law department merely told the executor that the claim had already been closed, Jackson said they they were just following their process.
Jackson said, however, that he will look into the matter to determine whether disciplinary action might be required.
"If someone has done something that is just pure negligence or something intentional, then we'll look into it," Jackson said, but sounded as though he suspected no protocol had been violated.
Subodh Chandra, local attorney for the Rice family, emailed to say that the requests filed by executor Douglas Winston were in fact public records
requests, "not requests to file a claim that would be barred as untimely under Ohio law anyway, or to abuse the family. They are hardly an excuse to file a creditor claim."
In his request submitted to the City of Cleveland's Dep. of Public Safety, when asked for what purpose the information was being used, Winston wrote: "for a lawsuit pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and at my request, on decedent's behalf."
Some reporters reminded Jackson that whatever the city's intentions were, it looked
as though they were trying to collect money from the family. WKYC's Tom Beres asked if Jackson was concerned about the negative headlines.
"My concern is how accurate you portray this situation," he said, addressing the media. "There's not much I can do about a day or even a week's worth of headlines. All I can do is tell you the truth. Should it have happened? No. Did anyone do anything wrong? No."