US to undertake review of Wal-Mart shooting
Sep. 25, 2014
CINCINNATI (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has begun its latest review of police department practices following a grand jury's decision not to indict officers in the fatal shooting of a man at a Wal-Mart in Ohio.
The federal government said its investigation of the Ohio shooting will be "thorough and independent" and it would take appropriate action if evidence was found that civil rights laws were broken. John Crawford III, 22, was black and the police officers are white.
The Justice Department has opened civil rights investigations into the practices of some 20 police departments in the past five years, with the latest in Ferguson, Missouri, which dealt with days of disturbances after police shot an unarmed black man.
On Aug. 5, an emergency caller in Beavercreek, Ohio, reported was waving what appeared to be a rifle in the store. Police said he didn't obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf.
On Wednesday, a special grand jury in Xenia opted not to issue any indictments in the death of Crawford, Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said.
Crawford's father, John Crawford Jr., said at a news conference Thursday that he's appalled the officers weren't indicted. He said he welcomed the Justice Department probe. Crawford Jr. and the family attorneys said that Piepmeier and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine were biased and set out to defend the officers.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney denied the allegations, saying the attorney general took pains to remove himself from the process.
Crawford's family said it was "incomprehensible" that police were not indicted.
Store surveillance video shown during the prosecutor's announcement shows Crawford walking in the aisles while apparently talking on a mobile phone. Crawford picks up the air rifle — which Piepmeier said had apparently been taken out of a box and left on a shelf — and continues walking through the store. A short time later, police arrive and Crawford is shot twice while holding the air rifle.
The Crawford family accused Piepmeier and DeWine of not attempting to get an indictment. They also said the store surveillance tape proves that Crawford's death was not justified.
Prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid, who assisted Piepmeier, said Crawford was shot twice by one officer, once in the elbow and once in the side under the rib area slightly from the front to the back. DeGraffenreid says Crawford was shot while holding the rifle, then dropped it, falling to the floor. She says no other shots were fired.
"This was a real tragedy," DeGraffenreid said in a telephone interview. But she said that based on what information the officers had when they entered the Wal-Mart, they were doing what they were trained to do.
Lori Shaw, a University of Dayton law professor who has been following the case, said she was not surprised with the grand jury's decision.
"I think in this particular instance, because the police had reason to believe that a weapon was involved, it made it much less likely that there would be a charge," Shaw said.
Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.