CINCINNATI (AP) — An Ohio grand jury found officers’ actions were justified in last month’s fatal shooting of a man holding an air rifle at a Wal-Mart store, a special prosecutor said Wednesday, a decision the man’s family said left them “disgusted.”
The Greene County grand jury in Xenia opted not to issue any indictments in the Aug. 5 death of 22-year-old John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said.
A 911 caller reported Crawford 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.
Crawford’s family, which has called for a federal investigation, said it was “incomprehensible” that police were not indicted.
“The Crawford family is extremely disappointed, disgusted and confused,” the statement said. “They are heartbroken that justice was not done in the tragic death of their only son.”
The U.S. Department of Justice said federal authorities will review the facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting. Crawford’s family has repeatedly asked for a federal investigation to see if race was a factor. Crawford was black and the officers are white.
Store surveillance video shown during the announcement shows Crawford walking in the aisles while apparently talking on a cellphone. 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 still holding the air rifle.
The Crawford family accused Piepmeier and Ohio Attorney General Mike 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 one in the side under the rib area slightly from the front to the back. DeGraffenreid says no other shots were fired after Crawford went down, dropping the rifle.
“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.
U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart in Columbus released a statement saying the department’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and his office will conduct an independent review of the case.
The city of Beavercreek had said a statement that was asking the FBI to conduct a review to determine if there were any civil rights violations. DeWine said after the decision was announced that he thought it is an appropriate time for the Justice Department to look into whether any federal laws were violated.
DeWine said state authorities have been in frequent contact with federal officials and will turn over requested investigative files to them.
Crawford’s family also had repeatedly asked state investigators to release the surveillance video publicly, and Facebook groups and online petitions pushed for the release. The Ohio attorney general’s office says the video was released publicly with the end of the grand jury proceeding.
Representatives of the Dayton NAACP said the video clips presented by the prosecutor don’t show imminent danger that would justify Crawford’s fatal shooting.
“The tragedy is that once again, our criminal justice system has failed our community,” said Lori Coleman, who leads the Dayton NAACP’s criminal justice committee.
Dayton NAACP President Derrick Foward called the grand jury’s decision “unbelievable.”
But 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.
She said with mass shootings have taken place in a variety of public places, police can be under added pressure in such cases.
“We’re in 2014 … I think the public is a lot more on edge, and I’m sure that police are more on edge.”
“It’s a tragic situation all the way around.”
Wal-Mart customer Angela Williams, 37, also died after suffering a medical problem during the store’s evacuation.
Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.