- Mark Gokavi Staff Writer
Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams said he never saw John Crawford III point a gun at or threaten anyone at Walmart, according to depositions in a federal wrongful death civil lawsuit.
But Williams testified that he shot Crawford because the 22-year-old Fairfield resident “was about to” point a weapon at him while holding a rifle in a “low ready” position.
The legal documents obtained by this news outlet from Crawford family attorneys also indicate Williams and Sgt. David Darkow relied on information relayed to them from Ronald Ritchie, the lone 911 caller, who said a man in the store had a rifle.
Williams testified that the fact dispatchers said Ritchie said the man was loading it and pointing it at people led him in a direction so that when Crawford appeared to Williams to turn toward the officers, the totality of the circumstances was “the reason why I pulled the trigger.”
The depositions of Williams and Darkow provide the most publicly available in-depth look at the perspectives of the law enforcement officers involved in the Aug. 5, 2014, fatal shooting of Crawford.
“Based on the depositions of the two officers, it has become even more clear to the Crawford family that John never should have been shot and killed,” according to a statement from Crawford family attorneys Michael Wright and Dennis Mulvihill.
The attorneys for Tressa Sherrod, Crawford’s mother, questioned the trustworthiness of Williams and Darkow.
“No one in the store was concerned or panicked, and only a single 911 caller even reported the situation,” the attorneys said in their statement, adding they believed the officers acted too quickly, “violated John’s constitutional rights, and violated many departmental procedures that tragic evening in Walmart. This tragedy never should have happened.”
Attorneys for Walmart and for Beavercreek and its officers on Wednesday did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the depositions or the case.
A Greene County special grand jury cleared Williams of any criminal wrongdoing in September 2014. A federal investigation finished last summer with U.S. Departmemt of Justice officials saying the probe “revealed that the evidence is insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Williams violated federal civil rights laws.”
Crawford was holding a replica-style BB/pellet rifle he had picked up from an opened box on a store shelf and was talking on his phone to the mother of his two children. His parents’ attorneys have said Crawford had from a third to a half of one second to hear, understand and react to any commands.
Depositions from Ritchie and his wife, April — both former Walmart employees — also said they regret the loss of life, but that they didn’t feel responsible.
Ronald Ritchie testified he felt sad, but that he didn’t regret his actions.
“I have actually been asked this question before in grand jury,” Ritchie said in his Feb. 11, 2016, deposition taken in St. Petersburg, Fla. “And I said then that if something like this was to happen again, I’d probably do the same thing.”
Williams shot Crawford twice in the left side on Aug. 5, 2014. Crawford died that night, as did shopper Angela Williams, who tried to flee the store and had a cardiac arrest after she heard the officer’s gunshots. Crawford’s parents filed a lawsuit in late 2014.
Officer Williams (no relation to Angela Williams) and Darkow testified they didn’t realize that Crawford was on his cell phone and didn’t know if Crawford heard commands to drop the weapon.
Williams said he didn’t observe anyone running, screaming, in pain, panicking and didn’t hear or smell gunfire at Walmart. He also said that he waited more than a minute for a second officer (Darkow) to respond before entering Walmart and that he didn’t during that time talk to store staff or security.
Darkow testified that both officers would have been justified in shooting Crawford without giving any commands because of the threat perceived via the 911 caller.
A citizen-led effort to prosecute Ritchie ended when special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier — the same attorney who convened the special grand jury — decided against pursuing charges.
The civil lawsuit is ongoing in Dayton’s U.S. District Court. The trial is currently scheduled for Feb. 5.
In his deposition taken Sept. 14, 2017, Williams said he disagreed with Beavercreek police Chief Dennis Evers that Crawford was not violating any law.
“When I first observed John Crawford, he was, he had a rifle in hand about to raise it up,” Williams said. “He had it in a low ready position and he was turning toward us with the rifle, which, at the very least, is an imminent threat to me, which is why I fired the rounds.”