Families of black victims killed by Ohio police want federal probes

September 27, 2016 11:08 AM EDT

The funeral program for Tyre King, a 13-year-old African-American youth shot last week by a white police officer, is seen outside the First Church of God of in Columbus, Ohio, September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

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By Kathy Lynn Gray

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - The families of two black males fatally shot by Columbus, Ohio, police called on Tuesday for independent investigations by federal officials of the separate incidents.

The police shootings of 13-year-old Tyre King on Sept. 14 and Henry Green, 23, on June 6 in Columbus, along with recent fatal police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, have added to the broad debate on race relations and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Enough is enough," a sobbing Adrienne Hood, Green's mother, said at a news conference in Columbus attended by family members and friends of both victims. "There is a culture in our police department that needs to change."

The families called for both shootings to be investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. They have said witnesses to both shootings contradict police accounts, and they want the police department, as well as the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office, to remove themselves from any involvement in the investigations.

"What we both want is justice for both of our families," said King's grandmother Dearrea King. "This has gone on too long and we're being ignored."

Justice Department officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the Justice Department makes its own decision on probes, which are typically based on civil rights violations, and typically waits for local investigations to conclude.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement that he had "great confidence" in the police department investigating the shootings and police would cooperate if federal officials get involved.

According to Columbus police, an officer shot King multiple times after the boy pulled what appeared to be a handgun from his waistband during an encounter following a report of an armed robbery.

It was later determined King had an air pistol that fires BBs. Ginther said the pellet gun looked almost identical to the handguns carried by city police.

A forensic report by a medical examiner hired by the family said the teenager was shot while running away. The Franklin County Coroner's Office has said a determination on the cause and manner of King's death was pending.

Green was fatally shot by two plainclothes Columbus police officers who saw him with a gun on the street, the Columbus Dispatch reported. He allegedly fired at them, but family and friends said the officers did not identify themselves. The newspaper cited police saying the officers had shown their badges.

Green's family said he was licensed to carry a gun.

Attorneys for the two families said lawsuits against the city or police are not being considered at this point.

(Reporting by Kathy Lynn Gray; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler)

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