John Crawford’s family to restart appeal in wrongful death lawsuit against Walmart

Nearly 10 years after his death, the family of a man fatally shot by police in a Beavercreek Walmart will go back to the court of appeals after a ruling allowing their wrongful death suit to proceed was vacated because one of the federal appeals court judges owned Walmart stock.

John Crawford III, of Fairfield, was shot to death Aug. 5, 2014, by Beavercreek police Officer Sean Williams. A 911 caller told dispatchers a Black man was holding a rifle, appeared to be loading it and waving it near people. Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 BB/pellet rifle that he found unboxed on a store shelf. Crawford was 22.

Shopper Angela Williams, who had no connection to Crawford, suffered a fatal heart attack after the shots were fired. She was running away from the gunfire when she collapsed, according to the Greene County Coroner’s Office.

Crawford’s family sued Walmart later that year, saying the retailer failed to prevent Crawford from carrying an unpackaged pellet gun through the store, leading police to believe he was armed with a real gun, per the lawsuit.

The family also sued Williams, Beavercreek police Officer David Darkow, former Police Chief Dennis Evers and the city. That suit was settled for $1.7 million and police policy changes.

A district court judge dismissed the wrongful death claim against Walmart, but in November, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the lower court’s ruling. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court wrote that “a reasonable jury could find that Walmart failed to prevent Crawford from carrying a look-alike AR-15 openly around the store.”

Three months later, Sixth Circuit Judge Helene White, one of the judges who voted in favor of overturning the decision, wrote in a letter to both parties that she owned stock in Walmart, which “would have required the judge’s recusal.” This is even though White didn’t vote in Walmart ‘s favor in overturning the lower court’s verdict.

Lawyers for Walmart subsequently called for the appeals court’s decision to be vacated, and for the matter to be re-heard by a different panel of judges.

“The outcome of a decision is irrelevant to the recusal analysis,” Walmart’s attorneys wrote. “Although Judge White ultimately ruled against Walmart, her known ownership of Walmart stock required recusal before she ruled in this case. And her failure to do so creates, at minimum, the appearance of impropriety.”

To avoid “even an appearance of impropriety,” the other two judges granted the request on April 11.

In a response to White’s letter filed on March 20, attorneys for Crawford’s family slammed the “hypocrisy” underlying Walmart’s request. In two different cases in the last 15 months, the filing says, Walmart attorneys argued that judges who owned and disclosed their ownership of Walmart stock after the fact should have their decisions upheld. In both those cases, the judges ruled in Walmart’s favor.

“Walmart’s only consistent approach is, ‘Walmart wins,’ " attorneys for Crawford’s family wrote. “Walmart demands the maximum remedy for a conflict rule that was intended to protect the other party, not Walmart. It is a classic game of, ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.’ "

Michael Wright, attorney for Crawford’s family, said they are “disappointed that the court of appeals made the decision to impanel a new set of judges for the case.”

“We think the Court of Appeals made a fair decision and we will continue to fight for this family.”

A spokesperson for Walmart declined to comment Thursday.

A new court date has not been set.

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