Surveillance video footage showing John Crawford III being shot and killed by police has been made public after a grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict officers in the Ohio Wal-Mart shooting death last month.
Police said they responded to a 911 call of an armed man in the store outside of Dayton on Aug. 5, and that they shot Crawford after he didn’t listen to commands to drop the gun. It turns out it was an air rifle that can shoot BBs or fire pellets.
The video shows Crawford, while talking on a cellphone, picking up a pellet gun, which was out of its package and sitting on a shelf. His family said he was talking to the mother of his two children. Crawford continues to walk through Wal-Mart aisles and passes by other customers, who do not appear to react to his presence. The Xenia Gazette reports that Crawford passed by Ronald Ritchie, the man who called 911 and told a dispatcher that there “was a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” that “he’s like pointing it at people” and the man appeared to loading what looked like a rifle and “waving it back and forth.” (A month later, Ritchie told the Guardian that Crawford never pointed the gun at anybody).
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The video shows Crawford continuing through the store. He paused at some store shelves, and it appears he’s still on the phone, fiddling with the gun as it swings, pointed toward the ground. Then, police enter the frame to his side; you can see Crawford turn his head, fall to the ground, scramble in the other direction, then turn back around before ultimately falling to the ground. It’s unclear whether he dropped the gun before being shot or after.
Special prosecuting attorney Mark Piepmeier said: “He’s still on the phone when these officers confront him, he’s probably not paying attention to what he’s doing, and this happens,” the Guardian reported.
Crawford died in a hospital shortly after the shooting. A nearby store customer with a heart condition, Angela Williams, had a heart attack when trying to leave the store and later died, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Crawford’s family released a statement after the grand jury decision: “The Wal-Mart surveillance video and eyewitnesses prove that the killing of John H. Crawford III was not justified and was not reasonable. It is undisputed that John Crawford III was in Wal-Mart as a customer and was not posing a threat to anyone in the store, especially the police officers.”
Piepmeier said Wednesday that the case revolved around whether Crawford obeyed police orders to drop the gun. “Was the officer reasonable to think himself or someone else would receive physical harm?” Piepmeier said at a news conference, the Enquirer reported. “The law says police officers are judged by what is in their mind at the time. You have to put yourself in their shoes at that time with the information they had.”
The officers had just been trained in responding to active shooters two weeks before, and were taught to be aggressive, Piepmeier said.
The grand jury watched hours of video, listened to audio and heard the testimony of 18 witnesses. On the third day of convening, the jury decided that the officers were justified in their actions and declined to indict any officers. Office Sean Williams was the only person listed on the final grand jury report, the Xenia Gazette reported.
Immediately after the jury returned no indictments, the Justice Department announced that it would conduct an independent civil rights review into the case. Crawford’s family had been pressing for federal officials to get involved and determine whether race played a role, as Crawford was black and the officers were white.
The DOJ, along with the FBI and U.S. attorney, will lead the review. Gov. John Kasich (R) released a statement saying: “After talking with the Attorney General and watching the video myself, I agree with his decision that a review by the U.S. Department of Justice is appropriate.”
The Crawford family called the result of the grand jury “incomprehensible,” NBC affiliate WLWT reported. “If he did nothing wrong, if he did not commit a crime, why is he not still here?” Crawford’s father, John Crawford Jr., asked at a news conference. “My son was murdered … he had absolutely no chance.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine had previously said that he wouldn’t release the surveillance footage, saying it would be “playing with dynamite” and taint a potential jury pool. Piepmeier announced after the grand jury decision that the video would be made public.