There will be no charges filed in Fairborn Municipal Court against the man whose 911 call to police led to the fatal shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart.
Mark Piepmeier, the special prosecuting attorney appointed by Fairborn Municipal Court prosecutor Betsy Deeds to consider charges against caller Ronald Ritchie, said in a finding released Monday that there is no reason to believe that Ritchie, who had served briefly in the Marine Corps, knowingly made a false report.
“I don’t find any evidence that Mr. Ritchie knew any of the information he was providing was false,” Piepmeier wrote.
Ritchie could have faced charges of making false alarms, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by maximums of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Piepmeier noted that a Greene County Grand Jury had the authority to indict anyone they believed had criminal culpability in the Aug. 5, 2014 shooting, but declined to charge Ritchie.
Piepmeier wrote that Crawford, 22, was carrying a Crosman MK-177 pellet gun, “which is nearly identical to a Windham SRC Carbine 223 AR.”
Piepmeier added: “The original 911 call from Mr. Ritchie was basically, ‘I’m at the Beavercreek Walmart and there is a man walking around with a gun in the store.’ The remainder of his conversation was mostly answers in response to questions from the dispatcher.”
Piepmeier, chief assistant prosecutor for Hamilton County, was appointed by Greene County as the special prosecutor for the county grand jury that cleared Beavercreek officer Sean Williams of any crimes. Williams, who fired the shots that killed Crawford, was the only person considered for charges, according to Greene County court documents.
During a 2014 press conference, Piepmeier said: “The 911 caller (Ritchie), again, he’s trying to be a good citizen, reporting as best he can, what he’s seeing.”
The choice of Piepmeier as special prosecutor, because of his earlier involvement in the case, was questioned by a local legal expert.
“(Piepmeier) is absolutely the wrong choice,” University of Dayton law school professor emeritus Tom Hagel said earlier this month. “I think it’s a mistake to appoint this guy because it immediately creates the appearance of impropriety and bias.”
Piepmeier could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. During the incident in which Crawford, of Fairfield, was killed, shopper Angela Williams, 37, suffered a heart attack while rushing out of the store after the fatal shots.
Prior to Monday’s announcement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine expressed doubts that Ritchie would be charged, saying it’s difficult to prove Ritchie had a bad motive. But he said investigators from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation made a mistake showing Ritchie surveillance video of the Crawford incident prior to getting Ritchie’s witness statement.
“I think it was a mistake,” DeWine said Monday morning. “I’d want a statement from a witness before I showed them anything.”
Critics of the shooting, including Crawford’s family, have highlighted differences between Ritchie’s statements about what he saw that prompted him to dial 911 and what is on video. Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Beth Root also noted differences.
On the recorded 911 call, Ritchie said Crawford was pointing a firearm at people.
“He was just waving it at children, people, items, I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying,” Ritchie said shortly after the shooting in an interview with the newspaper, later adding: “When people did look at him, he was pointing the gun at people and everything.”
A month later, in an interview with the Guardian, a British newspaper, Ritchie said: “At no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody.”
Root, the Fairborn judge, ruled that probable cause existed to prosecute.
Root wrote that, based on the video, “the court does note that at the time that Ronald Ritchie is relaying to dispatch that Mr. Crawford is pointing the gun at two children, the video does not depict this event.”
Attorney Michael Wright, who is representing Crawford’s family in a wrongful death federal civil lawsuit against Beavercreek and Walmart, said earlier Monday that he didn’t expect Ritchie to be charged, adding that Piepmeier wasn’t the best choice as prosecutor on the case because of his earlier statements praising Ritchie.
Wright added: “There’s an understanding people make bad calls to 911. It’s up to the police to assess the situation. That still should not have led to the death of John Crawford.”
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