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John Crawford's Family Files Suit Against Beavercreek Police And Walmart

Lewis Wallace

The family of John Crawford III has sued Walmart and the Beavercreek police for damages. Police fatally shot the 22-year-old black man inside the Beavercreek Walmart August 5 after responding to a call saying he was holding a gun. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun sold in the store.

The suit, filed in federal court Tuesday, alleges the individual officers, Sean Williams and David Darkow, as well as police chief Dennis Evers, the city of Beavercreek, and the Walmart store are partially responsible for Crawford’s death.

“We haven’t had complete transparency from the police department or Walmart,” said Attorney Richard Schulte, one of the lawyers for the family. “We’re gonna expose what they’ve done, and we’re gonna share that information with the world.”

The suit says Crawford had gone to the store to get ingredients for s’mores, and wasn’t doing anything illegal or dangerous. It says he picked up an unloaded pellet rifle that was unboxed in the store, and “never used, loaded or pointed the pellet rifle at anyone.” Video footage of the incident shows Crawford talking on his phone alone in an aisle when police arrive and shoot within seconds. The suit asks for damages from all parties, and says Walmart should clarify its policies for keeping BB and pellet guns available in the store. The lawyers said it's not clear to them yet whether Walmart could have communicated directly to police that they were aware Crawford was holding a pellet gun, rather than a real rifle.

“John Crawford broke no law,” said Attorney Michael Wright. “John Crawford threatened no one. John Crawford was shopping and talking on his cell phone.”

In September a Greene County Special Grand Jury declined to indict the two officers in the case, one of whom, Sean Williams, admits to pulling the trigger. The special prosecutors said police were doing what they had been trained to do in an active shooter situation, and that their understanding was the Crawford had a real gun based on a 9-1-1 call.

Protests against police shootings, particularly shootings of young black people, have been growing since August, locally and nationally. A Yellow Springs group is now holding a weekly vigil for John Crawford and other victims of police violence on the steps of the Greene County courthouse in Xenia, and dozens traveled from the Dayton area to Washington, D.C. for a national protest Dec. 13. Last week Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the creation of a working group to review police training, and Governor John Kasich announced a task force to look at police-community relations.

Attorneys as well as Crawford’s father, John Crawford Jr., stressed that the goal of the civil suit is partially to influence change in Beavercreek and other police departments, as well as in Walmart’s policies.

John Crawford Jr. says Walmart never contacted the family with condolences, and that the company should have released the surveillance videos to the public.

“My son’s name along with the rest of these families will be vindicated,” Crawford said. He spoke over the weekend at the march in Washington D.C. organized by Reverend Al Sharpton.

Also over the weekend, the Guardian website releaseda video of John Crawford III’s girlfriend, Tasha Thomas, being interrogated by a Beavercreek detective not long after Crawford was shot. Thomas was waiting for him in the parking lot when the shooting occurred, and in the video she cries as a detective the Guardian identifies as Rodney Curd slams his hand on the table and demands to know whether Crawford ever owned a gun. The Guardian got the video through a public records request.

Crawford’s parents and the mother of his two infant children are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Beavercreek Police haven’t responded to repeated requests for comment. Walmart issued a statement that reads, in part, “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.”

Lewis Wallace is WYSO's managing editor, substitute host and economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.

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