The family of John Crawford III, the 22-year-old black man killed by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart as he held a BB gun, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the retail giant and the police.
A 911 call about a man with a gun prompted police to come to the Wal-Mart in Beavercreek on Aug. 5, where they shot and killed Crawford. A grand jury decided in September to not indict any officers in the incident.
The family is seeking more than $75,000 in damages, citing the children Crawford left behind. Wal-Mart, the city of Beavercreek and Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers are named in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The lawsuit also names the officer who shot Crawford, Sean Williams, and his partner on the scene, David Darkow.
“All we want is justice for John Crawford, and everyone responsible for John Crawford’s death should be held responsible,” Crawford family attorney Michael Wright said at a Tuesday press conference, numerous outlets reported. “The criminal justice system refused to hold those accountable so the civil system must.”
Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick offered condolences to those who lost family members and defended the actions of company employees.
“Out of respect for everyone involved, we believe it’s not appropriate to discuss the specifics of this matter, but we can say that our associates acted properly,” Nick said in a statement. “We take the safety and security of our stores very seriously so that Walmart remains a safe shopping experience for our customers.”
Beavercreek city attorney Stephen McHugh said in a statement, “We acknowledge the family’s right to bring this action and are confident the trial will be fair and impartial. We believe the evidence will prove that the officer’s actions were legally justified.”
The lawsuit claims Wal-Mart was negligent for leaving the pellet rifle unpackaged and on the shelf for two days before Crawford picked it up. Officers are also accused of not following their training to first determine whether the information provided by the 911 was accurate before they opened fire on Crawford.
Crawford was killed within a second after the police officer’s first contact with him, the lawsuit states. “As a result, Mr. Crawford was shot before he even had time to react to the officer’s presence, much less to comply with any verbal commands.”
The suit also notes that Ohio is an open-carry state and accuses the officers of being especially “unreasonable, arbitrary, and egregious in engaging and shooting a shopper.”
Video footage of the shooting was made public after the grand jury decision. It shows Crawford talking on his cellphone and walking through Wal-Mart aisles past customers while holding a the air rifle, which can shoot BBs or fire pellets. Police enter the frame to Crawford’s side, and he turns his head, falls and scrambles to get away in the other direction before ultimately dropping the air rifle.
(Warning: Graphic content)
Another Wal-Mart shopper died during the August incident: Angela Williams had a heart attack as she was leaving the store. Her death was ruled a homicide.
One person not named in the lawsuit is the man who made the 911 call to police. Ronald Ritchie told a 911 dispatcher that Crawford was pointing the gun at people, but subsequently told the Guardian that Crawford didn’t point the gun at anybody.
Wright said Ritchie was left out of the lawsuit because it was the obligation of police to assess the situation, Cincinnati Fox affiliate WLWT reported.
The family’s lawyers also noted the high-profile police killings of black males, including Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown, WLWT reported.
Read the Crawford family’s lawsuit below:
This story has been updated multiple times.