The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Police shot Jayland Walker 41 times. His mother is fighting for his memory.

Pamela Walker and her daughter, Jada, are trying to honor the memory of Jayden Walker, 25, who was shot 41 times and killed by Akron police after fleeing from a traffic stop on June 27. (Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

“Ninety shots,” Paige White, an attorney, said. “We don’t treat animals that way.”

Sitting behind her legal team, Pamela Walker began to shake and cry. It was the first time she’d heard that police in Akron, Ohio, had fired dozens of shots at her son, who was killed three days earlier on June 27.

His death was unfathomable — hearing how he died was even worse, if that was even possible.

While her lawyer continued speaking to a crowd of residents and news media about her son’s death, Walker slumped in her chair and asked to go inside. As she walked away, her cries crescendoed, becoming so loud they could be heard back outside where the news conference was being held.

“They didn’t have to do that to him,” she said, news conference attendees recalled. “They didn’t have to do that.”

Jayland Walker was killed by Akron police after a car chase stemming from an alleged traffic violation. Body-camera footage shows eight officers — seven of whom were White — shooting a flurry of bullets at Walker, a Black man, after a 4½-minute chase.

His body had 41 gunshot wounds, and five graze injuries.

Walker’s killing has brought national attention to Akron, drawing calls for accountability and heightening concerns once again about police use of force.

Community groups have released lists of demands for city officials and the Akron Police Department. National leaders have called for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate his death.

During it all, Pamela Walker stayed largely quiet, rarely spoke publicly about her son and is still struggling to adjust to life without him.

But now, just more than a month after her son was killed, she’s opening up.

She has questions about the shooting and Akron police officers’ response, which left her son dead. She hopes for change in the community she’s spent her whole life in.

But most of all, she wants Jayland Walker to be remembered — not as the man who was fatally shot after a car chase, but as the man she raised and loved.

‘We love you’

The last time Jayland Walker saw his mother and sister, it felt like any other visit.

He lived on the opposite side of Akron, but made the drive across the city throughout the week to see them, take his mother to doctor’s appointments and watch movies at night — the 1996 film “The Nutty Professor” was a favorite. They’d seen that movie and others so many times Walker recited lines before they came up to make his family laugh.

On June 26, Walker drove to their house, knocked on the door and greeted his mother with a hug and kiss.

It had been a few days since the last time he visited. But just when his mother started to feel as if Walker might show up in the next day or two, he would knock on the door, she said, ready to give her a hug and kiss.

“Please, stay longer?” Walker’s sister, Jada, asked that day.

“I just wanted to check in on y’all for a minute before I get the day started,” Walker told his mother and sister.

They weren’t upset he had to leave early, Jada Walker said, they just wanted more time with him — sitting at the dinner table, dancing to music, hearing her brother’s laugh.

“That’s always what I looked forward to, just seeing him,” she said. “That’s my baby, my brother.”

When he left that day, Pamela Walker told him the same thing she did at the end of every visit: “You take care. You be safe. We love you.”

It was the last thing she said to him.

The next time there was a knock at their door, it was detectives who had come to tell her that her son was dead.

‘Like a slaughter’

Akron released 13 body-camera videos on July 3 — eight from officers who fired and five from “witness officers” who did not. The footage was uploaded to an Akron police YouTube channel for the public to view.

Pamela Walker hasn’t watched the body-camera footage of the car pursuit and killing of her son.

“I don’t want to see it,” she said. “I want to remember him as my beautiful son that loved and cared for his family.”

The body-camera footage was released because Akron law requires it within seven days of incidents when officers use force that is deadly or results in serious bodily injury.

In a news conference before the footage’s release, city officials showed two videos: one that was narrated with clips and still photos, and a second that was an unedited body-camera video.

According to the narrated video, after Walker did not pull over and the car chase began, officers heard a “sound consistent with a gunshot.” Police said they found a handgun, a loaded magazine and a gold wedding ring in Walker’s car.

When Walker got out of his car and fled, he was wearing a ski mask, according to police. In the lot, he stopped running, turned toward the pursuing officers and moved into a “firing position,” Police Chief Stephen Mylett said at the news conference.

He said that account was corroborated by each officer during individual walk-throughs of the crime scene.

When the car chase ended and Walker ran into a nearby parking lot, the body-camera footage showed eight officers firing at him. The shots continued as he fell and rolled onto the concrete.

Bobby DiCello, an attorney for the family, said Walker’s behavior — including wearing a ski mask — was “strange,” but “not lethal.”

The unknowns of that night have highlighted a disconnect between what police have said about Walker and the man that his family and community remember.

“We will never understand why this happened,” Pamela Walker said. “Never.”

The day the footage was released, Judi Hill, president of the Akron NAACP, recalled watching part of the news conference on her phone before stopping, realizing the first video was narrated.

“I was incensed by the production that was put on,” she said.

And she’s not alone. Groups across the community have organized to demand change from city officials and the police department, leading demonstrations before and after the release of the shooting footage.

“It was beyond excessive force,” Hill said. “It was almost like a slaughter.”

The plans Walker had

Before Jayland Walker was killed, he was planning his wedding.

He had proposed to his girlfriend, Jaymeisha Beasley, in March 2021. When he called to tell Pamela Walker the news, she said she could feel her son’s classic, bright smile on the other end of the phone.

“Mom, I’m engaged,” he told her.

But she hadn’t known he was going to propose until then, and she wanted to know more. How did he propose? Where did he get the ring? And, most importantly, when was the wedding?

“'We’ll let you know, but you’ll be on time to get there,'” Pamela Walker said. “That’s what he would tell me all the time.”

That’s how Jayland Walker was, she said. Humble, sweet and soft-spoken, never oversharing.

“It was just to the point, and that’s it,” she said.

Both from Akron, Jayland Walker and Beasley started dating in high school.

Jada Walker said she met Beasley when she and her brother were teenagers. Beasley became a part of the family instantly, she said. They were “the three J’s” — Jada, Jayland and Jaymeisha.

As the years went by, Beasley often joined Walker when he visited his mother and sister across town. She spent time with the Walker family, watching their favorite movies and eating dinner with them.

“There’s no Jayland without mentioning her,” she said.

The couple lived together in Akron, and they made plans — a list of places they wanted to travel to, when they wanted to have kids, how they would take care of their families.

Even on one of the happiest days of his life, Walker was matter-of-fact, to the point.

He and Beasley had just finished eating dinner. He took their plates to the kitchen, came back to the living room where she was sitting and got on one knee, asking if Beasley would marry him. She said yes right away.

But the pair never got to have their wedding.

On May 28, Beasley died in a car crash. A month later, Walker was killed.

His family has been in shock. First after losing her, then him shortly after. The wedding, the family and the lives they wanted together all came to a sudden stop.

“I know for certain that they’re together, and they’ll always have each other,” Jada Walker said.

Looking forward

In a first for the Akron Police Department, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) is conducting an independent investigation of Walker’s killing.

The results of the investigation will be given to the attorney general’s office to determine if the officers involved in the shooting will be criminally charged. The Walker family’s next steps are also pending the results of the BCI investigation, attorney Bobby DiCello said.

When the investigation is done, the family hopes Akron officials will be open to a conversation about changing policies, including use of force.

“If that fails, or if the information that we receive is so tragic or so egregious that we feel there’s no meaningful way to have a dialogue, then we’ll make that clear by filing a lawsuit,” DiCello said.

As she waits to know more, to know the answers to her questions, Pamela Walker has been reserved in the weeks since he was killed. She did not speak at his public funeral. She stands to the side during news conferences.

But she sees the work of the community and people across the country.

In the days before and after the body-camera footage was released, community members protested late into the night. During city council meetings, they’ve voiced concerns about Jayland Walker’s case.

And she’s appreciates these efforts — from afar.

“A lot of times I can’t come up with words to use for things, but everything that they’re doing, I totally agree with,” Walker said. “And I hope that something comes about from what they’re doing.”

Every night, she struggles to sleep, remembering his smile and the sound of his voice. Every day, she scrolls through her phone, looking at pictures of her son.

And now, even knowing he never will, his mother waits at home, with the feeling that her son might knock on the door in the next day or two, ready with a hug and kiss. Because it’s been a while since his last visit.