Photo: Chuck Hamlin/Staff
Photo: Chuck Hamlin/Staff

Two deaths, many unanswered questions follow Walmart police shooting

Family demands to know why police shot 22-year-old father holding BB gun. AG calls grand jury to weigh evidence. Police say officers acted appropriately.

In the shooting death of John Crawford III, there are more questions than answers. But some of the accounts seem to agree on how Beavercreek police officers confronted, shot and killed the 22-year-old man as he held a weapon that turned out to be a BB/pellet airgun rifle he picked up from a shelf inside the Walmart store.

In communication with 911 emergency dispatchers — including one who was speaking with an alarmed customer inside the store — officers arrived at the Pentagon Boulevard Walmart expecting to find a man with a loaded rifle walking the aisles.

Riverside resident Ronald Ritchie, the first and only witness to call 911 before shots were fired, told a dispatcher that an unidentified man — later determined to be Crawford — appeared to be attempting to “load” a rifle, which he later said looked like a AR-15, a weapon designed for the military.

Ritchie told the dispatcher that the man was “waving” the gun at shoppers, including children.

At one point, the dispatcher told responding officers that the man was thought to be loading “bullets” into the weapon.

In a situation where witnesses report to 911 dispatchers the appearance of an active shooter or someone they fear is a shooter, responding police officers depend on that information, said Brad Spicer, a Tampa, Fla.-based security consultant with 20 years of experience in state and local law enforcement.

“You do give it a high degree of credibility when a dispatcher tells it to you,” said Spicer, who works with customers, such as schools, to plan for emergency situations.

But officers realize that dispatchers themselves are relying on what may be faulty information from callers, he added.

“The information dispatchers communicate to officers is often only as good as what they receive,” Spicer said. “I think a lot of times law enforcement can realize it might not be 100 percent accurate.”

The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office said Crawford of Fairfield died of a gunshot wound to the torso and that the death was ruled a homicide, meaning the killing of a human being by another human being without respect to justification.

Not surprised by police action

In an Aug. 6 interview with News Center 7 and the newspaper, Ritchie was asked what he thought would happen when he called 911.

“Exactly what did happen,” said Ritchie, who identified himself as an ex-Marine.

A Riverside police report filed on Tuesday shows Ritchie’s wife, April, indicated they have been the victims of harassment on Facebook and e-mail messages from multiple individuals because of her husband’s role making the 911 call.

“He looked like he was going to go violently,” Ronald Ritchie said during the interview. “But anything could have happened, if he would have dropped the weapon, then he could have came out with his life, but unfortunately he didn’t.”

Reached by phone last week, Ritchie declined comment.

Shawn Messinger, police consultant with the Salt Lake City, Utah-based International Academy of Emergency Dispatchers, said a dispatcher’s objective when she gets an emergency call is at least twofold: To dispatch a quick response and to gather as much useful information as possible.

“We want to get very good information for our responding officers,” he said.

Dispatchers are also concerned with the safety of callers themselves. It’s a complex, demanding job, a true “profession,” he said — something that was not always the case.

“Thirty years ago, this was a job,” Messinger said. “And it was somewhere slightly north of, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”

“They literally save lives over the phone,” he added.

In 911 tapes released by Beavercreek police, the dispatcher talking to Ritchie for seven minutes did not advise him to get out of Walmart or back away from the situation.

“It seemed like the thing to do,” Ritchie said later.. “To get the information to the 911 dispatcher and the police that were involved.”

Conversely, dispatchers advised officers a person, Ritchie, was monitoring the situation. Ritchie said later he was close as 50 feet away from Crawford, and said he moved up to get a closer view, even though that was “not a good idea, but it happened.”

‘Verbal commands to drop weapon’

Ritchie’s conversation with the 911 dispatcher started about six minutes before police shot Crawford. The device he was holding was a BB/pellet rifle, a Crosman MK-177 (.177 caliber) that Crawford took from a store shelf, the Ohio Attorney General’s office said. The black rifle appeared to be designed to look realistic and is “useful for both target practice when perfecting your aim and for going after small game,” according to a description on the box.

Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers said “officers gave verbal commands to subject to drop the weapon. The subject, later identified as John Crawford, was shot after failing to comply with officer’s commands.”

Another death is tied to that night. Angela Williams, 37, of Fairborn collapsed fleeing the store with her 9-year-old daughter. Evers said she “suffered a medical emergency” and died later at the nearby Soin Medical Center. She was supposed to get married four days later.

On Tuesday, Michael Wright, the Dayton attorney retained by the Crawford family, saw part of Walmart’s in-store surveillance video footage provided by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. DeWine and Wright have agreed they will not provide any descriptions of the events contained in the 6-minute surveillance video.

With Crawford’s father, Wright insisted that the footage demonstrates that Crawford posed no threat to anyone as he shopped inside Walmart.

“He (Crawford) was not doing anything wrong in the store,” Wright told this newspaper. “He wasn’t doing anything menacing. He wasn’t pointing the gun at folks and waving it around. He wasn’t loading it as previously indicated.”

Wright said Crawford was holding in one hand a cell phone and holding with the other hand the airgun rifle.

What follows is an account of the crucial moments that happened that evening and in the following days. It is pieced together from 911 call transcripts, dispatch radio traffic transcripts, press releases and interviews with witnesses, those who have seen the store’s footage and those investigating what happened.

Though DeWine has shown some surveillance video footage to Wright and Crawford’s father, no video has been publicly released.

All times are approximate.

8:15-8:20 p.m. Aug. 5

Crawford and his girlfriend, Tasha Thomas, of Fairborn, walked into Walmart. His relatives later say he intended to buy s’mores or “cookout food” they were going to attend nearby.

Thomas said Crawford did not have a gun when he entered the store. Thomas said she was with Crawford, and he may have picked up the BB airgun rifle since they were near the toy section in the middle of the store.

8:21 p.m. Aug. 5

The Beavercreek police dispatch center received a 911 call reporting a man “waving a rifle-type weapon at customers, including children,” according to police.

8:24 p.m., Aug. 5

Police Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Sean Williams arrived at the store within three minutes of the first 911 call, police said.

Ritchie, the first of five people to call 911 but the only one who called before the shooting, was on the phone with a police dispatcher as he and his wife, April, watched Crawford, and continued to follow him from a distance.

In a later interview with this newspaper, Ritchie said Crawford was “just waving it (the air rifle) at children and people. … I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying. I’m thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he’s there to shoot somebody else.

“He didn’t really want to be looked at. And when people did look at him, he was pointing the gun at them,” Ritchie said. “He was pointing at people, children walking by.”

Crawford was not pointing the rifle as if he were aiming it, but “waving” the device at passers-by, he said.

Ritchie said he didn’t confront Crawford but remained on the phone with a dispatcher until after Crawford was shot. According to the 911 transcript, Ritchie said Crawford was “loading” the rifle.

“I think it was real, from my personal experience,” he would later tell this newspaper.

Here is an excerpt from the 911 call transcript:

Dispatcher: “I’m still on the phone with you, this is Sharron. But they’re probably sending somebody.”

Ritchie: “OK.”

Dispatcher: “I’m just going to stay on the phone with you.”

Ritchie: “OK.”

Dispatcher: “What’s he doing now?”

Ritchie: “He looks like he’s just trying to load it.”

Dispatcher: “He’s just trying to load it?”

Ritchie: “Yeah.”

A moment later, the dispatcher asked: “What’s he loading it with, do you see?”

“I have no idea,” Ritchie replied. “I’m not getting that close to him.”

Security consultant Spicer, the owner of Tampa, Fla.-based Safe Plans LLC, said the dispatchers’ role is critical in emergencies.

“The job is difficult and can be complicated,” Spicer said. “What the dispatcher would want to do is be able to provide information to law enforcement to help law enforcement arrive on scene and rapidly identify what’s going on. The description (of a scene and a suspect) is important.”

A day after the shooting, April Ritchie said, “He (Crawford) just kept messing with it (the rifle) and I heard a clicking.” She added, “Anytime I saw people walking his way, I would get their attention,” demonstrating how she would warn people by waving her hands.

Again, moments later, the dispatcher tells officers: “Affirmative, I have a gentleman who’s watching him says he’s waving it around. Says it’s a rifle. Believes he just put some bullets inside.”

8:27 p.m. Aug. 5

The Ritchies said they did not know police had arrived until they saw four or five officers in the pet section, where Crawford stood.

“I heard, ‘Put it down! Put it down!’” April Ritchie recalled. “I heard two shots after I saw him turn. He still had the weapon in his hand.”

“The gentleman decided to swing the rifle to the officer pointing at them,” Ronald Ritchie said this newspaper. “That’s when the officer shot him twice.”

LeeCee Johnson, who is the mother of Crawford’s two children, said she was on a cell phone call with Crawford when police shot him.

“We was just talking,” said Johnson, who lives in Fairfield. “He said he was at the video games playing videos, and he went over there by the toy section where the play guns were. And the next thing I know, he said, ‘It’s not real!’ and the police start shooting. And they said, ‘Get on the ground!’ But he was already on the ground because they had shot him.

“They didn’t give him a chance, because they weren’t listening to him,” she said. “He was trying to tell them that ‘It (the gun) is not real!’

“And I could hear him just crying and screaming,” Johnson added. “I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.”

8:28 p.m. Aug. 5

According to radio traffic provided by police, an officer says, “Suspect down.”

Radio traffic continues.

Officer: “Somebody bring caution tape in here, please. … Did we start a medic up here?”

Dispatcher: “Affirmative. Medics are en route.”

Officer: “Hey, somebody that’s outside needs to bring some caution tape in here, please.”

A second officer: “I’ll get it.”

“Officers confronted the subject inside the store area, near the pet supplies, holding a rifle,” said the Aug. 6 Beavercreek police press release. “The officers gave verbal commands to the subject to drop the weapon. The subject, later identified as John Crawford, was shot after failing to comply with the officers’ commands.”

The Ritchies said Crawford fell backward when he was struck, but got back up and went toward the officer who shot him. That officer then tackled the man, the Ritchies said.

Officers then handcuffed him and turned him on his back, Ronald Ritchie said.“They took him out on the gurney,” he said.

“They were just telling him to stay awake,” Johnson said. “They were telling him over and over to stay awake. And I could hear him in the background just crying and screaming.”

Crawford was taken by ambulance to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton.

8:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Aug. 5

A chaotic exodus from the store, spurred by the appearance of police officers and the sound of gunfire, followed. The 911 call transcript includes background comments from people fleeing or encouraging others to flee, such as, “Everybody get out of the store now! Everybody out of the store now. Out of the store!” Medics had two medical emergencies to respond to, and there was some discussion about how they should enter Walmart.

More radio traffic:

Officer: “Where do you need the tape?”

Second officer: “Back here in the pets section, and a first aid kit, too, if somebody has one.”

Third voice: “You need to get a first aid bag, so get that rolling in the front door.”

Radio traffic shows that one officer asked another if he had a tourniquet.

Another officer, in an apparent reference to Williams: “There’s a female customer back in the sporting goods section that’s having a medical emergency. I’ll need an additional medic for her. Adult female.”

Evers said Williams, 37, a nurse and mother of three sons and a daughter, “suffered a medical emergency” in the tumult. He said “she died a short time later” at Soin Medical Center, less than a mile from the Walmart. The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office said Williams died of an apparent heart attack.

Officers from Fairborn and Wright State University and Greene County sheriff’s deputies responded to the store. They helped evacuate shoppers and search the store, police said.

In an exchange that started at 8:31 p.m., a dispatcher says, “Medics are requesting can they come in or do they need to stage?” An officer replies, “They need to come in. They need to come to the far-left pet area.”

At 8:35 p.m., an officer asks, “Is the medic still staging or what are they advising?” and a medic responds, “We’re down now.”

At 8:40 p.m., an officer asks, “Who do you want to follow him to the officer? You want me to secure the scene here? Someone else?”

At 8:50 p.m., a medic said, “En route to the Valley.”

9:16 p.m. Aug. 5

A police officer requests a supervisor, according to radio traffic.

9:23 p.m. Aug. 5

Crawford pronounced dead at Miami Valley Hospital.

9:48 p.m. Aug. 5

“Contact the on-call Greene County prosecutor,” an officer said. “We’re going to need them to respond to the scene.”

Overnight, Aug. 5-6

The Walmart was closed. Chief Evers later said he contacted DeWine’s office within hours of the shooting to ask the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate what happened.

7:30 a.m. Aug. 6

By early morning, Walmart employees reenter the store to help open it just before 11 a.m.

Afternoon, Aug. 6

The Attorney General’s office announces that Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 BB airgun rifle when he was shot.

4 p.m. Aug. 6

At a press conference, Evers read a prepared statement detailing the police response and fatal shooting. “Preliminary indications are that the officers acted appropriates under the circumstances,” he said, declining to take any questions. The chief also said he asked DeWine and the BCI to take over the investigation.

After the fatal shooting

Following the funerals for Crawford and Williams, DeWine met Tuesday with members of Crawford’s family at their attorney’s office to show them a 6-minute excerpt of Walmart surveillance video of the moments involving the fatal police encounter.

DeWine said part of his visit was also to offer the Crawfords his condolences. During a press conference on the steps of the Greene County Courthouse in Xenia, he announced he has called for a “special grand jury” to convene on Sept. 3 to investigate the shooting and determine whether a crime occurred. He said the investigation includes reviewing more than 260,000 images retrieved from the 203 surveillance cameras inside Walmart.

But Crawfords parents and their attorney said the surveillance video shows the shooting was unjust.

“The surveillance video supported exactly what we believed to be true,” Wright said in a statement. “This video showed that absolutely this young man, John Crawford III, was killed without justification or cause.”

“I watched my son get murdered by law enforcement,” Crawford’s father said after watching the video.

The video does not show any police, nor does it show Crawford interacting with anyone, officers or shoppers, Wright said. It showed him looking at a shelf and talking on a cell phone.

“He was in a isolated location, standing by himself, not facing the direction of the officers,” Wright said. “The video really shows no interaction between him and the police officers.”

He said “ Crawford never approached the officers, never aimed the BB gun at them, or otherwise was aggressive in anyway. He was shot on sight.”

Asked what he saw in the video that might have led to officers shooting Crawford, Wright said, “That’s what we are wondering — why he was shot.”

“The video is going to show everything,” he said. “We are just waiting until that is released.”

Wright said he has asked Carter Stewart, the U.S. district attorney in Ohio’s Southern District, to investigate the case.

“They have not indicated whether or not they’re getting involved in this investigation,” Wright said.

DeWine said he assured Stewart, Gov. John Kasich and others that he would keep them informed on the investigation.

On Wednesday, Darkow returned to police duty, while Williams remained on administrative leave, according to Stephen McHugh, Beavercreek’s city attorney.

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