The city of Beavercreek had paid more than $430,000 through mid-March to four law firms to defend its police officers in the John Crawford III fatal shooting case, according to documents obtained by this news organization.
That cost includes about $210,000 paid to two Washington, D.C., law firms to defend officer Sean Williams and Sgt. David Darkow. Williams fired the two shots inside Beavercreek’s Walmart on Aug. 5, 2014, that killed Crawford, a 22-year-old Fairfield resident.
The money paid so far in invoices from Hogan Lovells for Darkow’s defense under “Grand Jury Investigation” is more than $178,000 — about 5.5 times the $32,000 Beavercreek has paid Schertler & Onorato to defend Williams.
Five of the nine attorneys listed on one Hogan Lovells invoice bill from $639 to $930 per hour.
This news organization obtained the billing documents using Ohio public records laws. City law director Stephen McHugh said he is the only Beavercreek official who will comment about the payments.
McHugh said that it is Beavercreek’s position “that the two officers involved in the Aug. 5, 2014, incident were acting in accordance with their training,” he said. “While unfortunate, it was necessary for the city to retain outside counsel to defend the city and the officers involved in the civil lawsuit and the ongoing investigation by the Dept. of Justice.”
Attorney Michael Wright, who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit against Beavercreek and Walmart, said the money could have gone toward a settlement.
“It’s unfortunate that the city of Beavercreek has taken this stance and spent so much of the taxpayers money to continue to fight the Crawford family,” Wright said. “This family and John’s two sons deserve justice.”
Fees don’t include FOP attorney
The invoices are heavily redacted to remove attorney-client privileged information, McHugh said. The fees paid to attorney Vince Popp, who represented both officers on behalf of Beavercreek’s police union from August 2014 until the summer of 2016, are not included in the total.
Popp said he worked “dozens of hours” but didn’t want to say how much he was paid. Popp said he usually represents police officers through Professional Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), which is like an insurance company for legal defense.
Popp said his understanding is that Beavercreek was not a member of PLEA at the time, but that the city has since joined. McHugh did not address a question about whether the city had any legal defense insurance.
Popp did say why he is no longer on the case. Popp said Dept. of Justice (DOJ) attorneys filed a sealed motion to U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice alleging he had a conflict of interest.
“I had no idea at the time what the conflict was,” said Popp, who was denied a meeting in chambers and was irritated by the decision. “And to this day, I have no idea what the conflict is.”
Additional fees expected
The civil lawsuit, brought by Crawford’s parents Tressa Sherrod and John Crawford Jr., could continue for years, and attorney fees could grow faster if Williams or Darkow are federally indicted.
“The city expects to incur additional legal fees in connection with the pending litigation and investigation,” McHugh said. “However, because these two matters are still ongoing, I cannot comment as to why the city retained the specific legal counsel that it did or why the legal fees for Sgt. Darkow’s representation are higher than those of officer Williams.”
Wright wonders why Darkow’s bill is so much higher than that of Williams.
“I do find it very curious there is such a large discrepancy,” Wright said. “I think the city of Beavercreek can answer that question, and the taxpayers of Beavercreek should know the answer.”
The invoices indicate a grand jury may have been convened, but Southern Ohio’s top federal prosecutor Benjamin Glassman has not confirmed that.
The balance of the legal fees have been paid to Freund, Freeze & Arnold — about $171,000 — and about $49,000 to Coolidge Wall, McHugh’s firm. Dozens of pages are redacted due to attorney-client privilege.
“The taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent,” Wright said. “Hiding important public information from the people should raise everyone’s suspicion. What is Beavercreek hiding?”
Williams still on administrative duty
Williams was placed on administrative duty by Beavercreek police Chief Dennis Evers and remains there. His 2016 personnel review score was a 2.74, which falls in the “exceeds expectations” category while he is being evaluated as an investigations secretary.
“Sean is always willing and eager to assist when needed,” Capt. Chad Lindsey wrote of Williams, who fired his weapon in both the fatal police-involved shootings in department history. “Sean has continued to utilize the administrative assignment to enhance his knowledge and experience.”
McHugh said Williams has not used personal time or missed work due to any meeting(s) between him and his attorneys.
Beavercreek officers responded to Walmart after one 911 caller said he saw a black man waving a rifle around, appearing to load it and pointing it at people including children.
Beavercreek police said Williams shot after he and Darkow repeatedly yelled at Crawford to drop the item — actually a bb/pellet rifle taken from an opened box in the store. Crawford, who was talking on his cell phone, had a third of a second to react before the shots, according to his family’s attorneys.
Trial set for February 2018
On Sept. 25, 2014, a Greene County special grand jury declined to indict Williams and did not consider charges against Darkow nor anyone else.
Special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said Crawford “did nothing wrong.” That day, the U.S. Dept. of Justice announced it would investigate the incident for possible civil rights violations.
That probe is nearing 31 months old without resolution. It spans two U.S. presidents, three U.S. Attorneys General and two U.S. Attorneys for the Southern District of Ohio — with a third person nominated for that job waiting in the wings.
Judge Walter Rice has allowed Williams and Darkow not to be subjected to depositions because of the ongoing DOJ investigation. The civil case jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2018 — exactly 3.5 years after Crawford was shot.