Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine met Monday with 60 Dayton ministers in a bid to ward off feared community unrest in the wake of a police-involved shooting that resulted in the Aug. 5 death of John Crawford III.
Also Monday, an attorney for Crawford’s family released a letter asking DeWine to formally request an investigation into the shooting by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
For the first time, the Crawford’s family attorney, Michael Wright, warned of unrest if the police officers who confronted Crawford are not charged with a crime.
DeWine last week called for a special grand jury to convene on Sept. 3 to investigate the shooting.
‘We are asking a great deal of you’
Wright also asked DeWine for complete in-store footage of Crawford, of 911 caller Ronald Ritchie and of responding police officers.
“We recognize that we are asking a great deal of you,” Wright wrote to DeWine in a letter dated Aug. 21. “But given the unique circumstances of this case, the fact that the fatal encounter was caught on tape, and the racial overtones that cannot be ignored, we fear that anything short of an indictment and prosecution of officers (David) Darkow and (Sean) Williams will lead to substantial civil unrest.”
Crawford was black; the responding Beavercreek police officers are white, and the only person to call 911 from the Walmart store the evening of Aug. 5 before any shots were fired is also white.
Messages seeking comment were left with a DeWine spokeswoman.
Fred Alverson, a spokesman for Carter Stewart, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said his office has received no request from DeWine’s office yet.
“We have been in constant communication with the FBI, who are continuing to monitor and assess the situation, and we will make a determination on what the next steps are as things move forward,” Alverson said.
Representatives of local community grassroots groups gathered Monday outside the federal courthouse in downtown Dayton and asked for the release of all Walmart surveillance footage from the shooting and for the Justice Department to take over the investigation.
The group plans a noon rally Wednesday at the federal courthouse, followed by a 6 p.m. community “speak-out” at Central State University’s west Dayton campus.
The group and members of the Crawford family also will be outside the Beavercreek Walmart at 1 p.m. Saturday for another rally.
Last week, Stephen McHugh, Beavercreek’s law director, said Darkow has returned to duty, while Williams remained on administrative leave. Police have not said who shot Crawford.
During the three weeks since the shooting, the newspaper has filed numerous open records’ requests, reviewed police records and 911 transcripts, interviewed witnesses and other key people involved in the investigation to report what happened.
A 911 caller from the Walmart store on Pentagon Boulevard on the evening of Aug. 5 told an emergency dispatcher that Crawford was carrying a rifle and appeared to be threatening. The caller, Riverside resident Ronald Ritchie, said Crawford appeared to be “loading” ammunition into what turned out to be a BB air rifle suitable for shooting small game.
The dispatcher, in turn, told officers responding to the store that Crawford was putting “bullets” into a rifle he was carrying.
There were no other 911 calls before Crawford was shot.
The shooting in the pet goods section of the Walmart resulted in Crawford’s death that night at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. Beavercreek police Chief Dennis Evers has said responding officers acted “appropriately” in the situation, but the chief asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the shooting.
Police have referred questions to DeWine’s office, and DeWine has not publicly released any in-store surveillance video of the events.
In his letter to DeWine, Wright asked the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor “who has no ties to Greene County, but who has significant experience in excessive force cases.
“If you do acquiesce to this request, the Crawford family can rest assured knowing that everything was done properly in this investigation and prosecution,” Wright wrote.
The Rev. Wilburt O. Shanklin, senior pastor at The Living Word of Faith church, said he and about 60 local ministers met with DeWine Monday. He said the attorney general asked the pastors to be prepared if there is unrest.
“You have to be prepared to make sure that you don’t bias a community or a certain group before there’s an opportunity to have a realistic, judicial approach and resolution to the matter,” Shanklin said.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said he had earlier spoken with Shanklin about a pastors’ meeting, and at one point, DeWine called Plummer. That meeting happened Monday at The Living World of Faith church.
“I knew we needed to get the faith-based community together and get prepared in case we have a riot or civil disorder, something we don’t want here, and we don’t want our town tore up,” Plummer said. “We just need to work together and communicate. There’s always two sides to every story. We want to listen to what the faith-based community has to say and then we want to explain how the police operate and some of our tactics, so we can work together through these issues.”
‘The last four minutes of his life’
DeWine — a former congressman, lieutenant governor and senator, among other roles — started his career in the early 1970s as an Greene County assistant prosecuting attorney, and he was elected county prosecutor in 1976.
DeWine visited Wright and Crawford’s father, John Crawford Jr., at Wright’s office on Aug. 19, showing the attorney and the father a portion of Walmart’s in-store surveillance footage of the final minutes before Crawford was shot by police. Wright said the video was five or six minutes long.
“We saw the look on your (DeWine’s) face when you saw the video for the first time, and it was not a look of someone who thought the officers acted appropriately,” Wright wrote to DeWine in his Aug. 21 letter. “Instead, it was a look of horror.”
According to Ritchie’s description to the dispatcher that evening, Crawford was “waving” a rifle — which he later described to the newspaper as appearing similar to an AR-15, a military weapon — at people in the store. Ritchie told the dispatcher that Crawford appeared to be attempting to “load” the rifle.
But according to a description of the video from attorney Dennis Mulvihill, a partner with Wright, nothing in the video the firm has seen “substantiates the 911 caller’s version of the events.”
“In the last 4 minutes of his life, John Crawford was standing in one spot, in a corner aisle, talking on the phone, facing the shelves,” Mulvihill wrote in an email that Wright shared with this newspaper. “The bb gun he was intending to buy was being used like a cane, barrel pointed at the floor, while the cell phone was in his other hand — placed up to his ear. Other shoppers who wandered into the camera appeared to be completely unconcerned about John.”
Added Mulvihill: “When the police arrived at the aisle where John was standing, the tapes appear to show that the police shot John on site, without any warning. The police did not appear to give any command and the shots were fired within a second or two of their seeing John standing at the end of the aisle, talking on the phone.”
Ritchie could not be reached for comment Monday. His cell phone number did not accept phone calls Monday.
Wright has told this newspaper that the surveillance video he saw did not explain why police shot Crawford. DeWine said last week the surveillance video of was grainy and without audio. He said as part of their investigation, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation is reviewing more than 260,000 images captured from the 203 surveillance cameras inside Walmart.
But Wright reiterated that the video shown to him and Crawford’s father does not match the 911 caller’s description.
“Everything the 911 caller said was absolutely incorrect,” Wright said. “There’s nothing that he said that could be verified on the videotape. He was not pointing at women and children. He was not loading the weapon.”
A second death is tied to the events of that night. Springfield resident Angela Williams, 37, suffered an apparent heart attack as she attempted to flee the store with others after the shooting. She later died at the nearby Soin Medical Center.
Said Wright: “In the video, you’re going to see Angela Williams in the same aisle as John Crawford, and she wasn’t alerted as to anything being out of the ordinary.”