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John Crawford's Mother, Aunt Reflect Three Years After Shooting

The 2014 shooting of John Crawford sparked protests across the Miami Valley. In this photo, a group calling itself the Groovy Grannies organized a demonstration against police violence in Springfield.
Wayne Baker

Three years ago this month, 22-year-old John Crawford III, an African American, was shot and killed by a white police officer inside a Beavercreek Walmart store. The controversial shooting continues to reverberate across the Miami Valley.

In a rare interview, Crawford’s aunt Sharon Sherrod Brown, and his mother Tressa Sherrod, remember the day of the shooting and reflect on how Crawford’s death has affected the family.

WYSO Community Voices producer Steve McQueen began by asking John's mother to describe her son -- what was he like as a child? 

"John was born in 1992, July 29th at 1:33 p.m. No siblings, [he was an] only-child. He was outdoorsy. He wasn't one of those that like to stay in the house and be on the computer games system. He preferred to be outside. As far as I know, everybody liked him," she says.

Tressa recalls the events of August 5, 2014, the day John died. She says it began like any other average summer day.

"We were just chilling around the house, and he went to get his boys. They were heading to a cookout. His children's mother wanted to use my phone." 

Tressa remembers John's children's mother going outside to make the call. She was on the phone with John when he was shot.

"She comes back in the house yelling, they shot him. You know, who are you talking about? And she said, John. They shot John."

John's ex handed Tressa the phone so she could speak to her son directly. It was the last time she would hear her son's voice. John's mother Tressa described what she heard on the other end of the phone that day.

"Still no response from him but I can hear him gargling, like blood. You know that noise? I hear that on the other end."

Eventually they would learn from the police report that Crawford was shot by police officer Sean Williams. Security cameras showed a chaotic scene of police officers shooting and then handcuffing Crawford as he lay on the ground. Finally, a family member called to say an ambulance was taking John to the hospital.

"I get to the hospital. They have us sitting in the waiting room, I want to say for about an hour, and then they tell us that he passed. We still want to see him, they tell us we can't, that he's already at the morgue. Y'all had us sitting here and then you shipped him to the morgue? We could have been in there to see him," she says. "And then that was that."

The family was desperate for answers about what led to John's shooting.

"There were so many rumors going around, blaming him for everything before they even knew what happened," she says.

It would take weeks before the family learned more details about how John was killed. A subsequent investigation revealed a 911 caller had told police an active shooter was loading a rifle and pointing it at children and other customers inside the Walmart.

Family members say police shot Crawford before he had a chance to respond to police commands to freeze or to drop what they thought was a weapon. It was later identified as an Airsoft rifle from the store shelf.

The Beavercreek police department has maintained officers followed except that law enforcement protocol.

Tressa and John's aunt Sharon Sherrod Brown say what happened to John follows a now familiar pattern.

"I hate when I hear people say, well, we don't know what happened before he was shot. There were over 240-some cameras on my baby from the time he parked the car until he was rolled out. You see what happened before and after. They got camera footage of everything that happened," she says. "They are above the law."

"They can say that they were afraid, that they fear for their life or they thought something was happening in their head and they reacted, and they're not even close to following their training that they're given," says Brown, "or maybe the training that they do take needs to be more intense and changed."

Since Crawford's shooting, state officials have since beefed up the training that police officers are required to complete. Officers must now go through use of force, crisis de-escalation and implicit-bias training.

But John's aunt Sharon says that's not enough.

"Every time someone is killed it brings back all of the emotions that I went through when my nephew was taken. What do we do? People should not judge based on what they look like."

This summer, Officer Williams returned to full duty with the Beavercreek police department. No charges have ever been filed in the case.

McQueen asked John's Mother what justice for her son would look like.

"Justice? No. He didn't deserve this at all. And this is just this is going to continue to go on until there is a drastic change, and something drastic happens," she says quietly.

The Crawford family has filed a civil suit against Beavercreek police and Walmart stores alleging negligence and civil rights violations. The city and Walmart have both denied the allegations in the suit. 

Tressa says she's not sure the family will ever really get justice for John's death.

Jess Mador contributed to this story.

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