CINCINNATI, Ohio – The Justice Department has begun its latest review of police department practices following a grand jury’s decision not to indict officers in the fatal shooting of a man at an Ohio Wal-Mart.
The government said its investigation will be “thorough and independent” and it would take appropriate action if evidence was found that civil rights laws were broken.
A special Greene County grand jury in Xenia on Wednesday opted not to issue any indictments in the Aug. 5 death of 22-year-old John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said.
A 911 caller reported Crawford was waving what appeared to be a rifle in the store. Police said he didn’t obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf.
Crawford’s family, which called for a federal investigation to see if race was a factor, said it was “incomprehensible” that police were not indicted. Crawford was black and the officers are white.
“The Crawford family is extremely disappointed, disgusted and confused,” the family said in a statement. “They are heartbroken that justice was not done in the tragic death of their only son.”
Store surveillance video shown during the announcement shows Crawford walking in the aisles while apparently talking on a cellphone. Crawford picks up the air rifle – which Piepmeier said had apparently been taken out of a box and left on a shelf – and continues walking through the store. A short time later, police arrive and Crawford is shot twice while still holding the air rifle. Crawford was from Fairfield in suburban Cincinnati.
The Justice Department has opened civil rights investigations into the practices of some 20 police departments in the past five years, with the latest in Ferguson, Missouri.
Ferguson dealt with days of disturbances after police shot an unarmed black man.
Beavercreek’s per capita income of $37,987 is well above the state average. About 2.5 per cent of residents are black, well below the state average of 12.5 per cent.
The Crawford family accused Piepmeier and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine of not attempting to get an indictment. They also said the store surveillance tape proves that Crawford’s death was not justified.
Prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid, who assisted Piepmeier, said Crawford was shot twice by one officer, once in the elbow and once in the side under the rib area slightly from the front to the back. DeGraffenreid says Crawford was shot while holding the rifle, then dropped it, falling to the floor. She says no other shots were fired.
“This was a real tragedy,” DeGraffenreid said in a telephone interview. But she said that based on what information the officers had when they entered the Wal-Mart, they were doing what they were trained to do.
Lori Shaw, a University of Dayton law professor who has been following the case, said she was not surprised with the grand jury’s decision.
“I think in this particular instance, because the police had reason to believe that a weapon was involved, it made it much less likely that there would be a charge,” Shaw said.