An attorney for the family of a Walmart shopper Beavercreek police fatally shot in August is demanding to know why a key witness was shown store surveillance footage from that night — key evidence that the attorney and others have sought to be released publicly.
“We are very concerned about that because it was our understanding that was the whole reason that (Ohio Attorney General) Mike DeWine did not want to release the video,” attorney Michael Wright said Monday. “He did not want people to have the opportunity to change their statements.”
A writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, in a story published Sunday, said Riverside resident Richard Ritchie told the newspaper that he was shown “the surveillance footage by officials in the (Ohio) attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.”
On Aug. 5, Beavercreek police shot John Crawford III, 22, in the pet goods section of the Pentagon Boulevard Walmart store after a 911 caller, Ritchie, told dispatchers Crawford was behaving in a menacing fashion with what turned out to be a bb gun. Police say Crawford twice disregarded orders before he was shot, but Police Chief Dennis Evers referred the matter to DeWine’s office hours after the shooting.
DeWine’s office oversees the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). Wright — retained by Crawford’s father, John Crawford Jr. — said that if BCI showed Ritchie the Walmart store footage, that means DeWine “breached his agreement to the (Crawford) family.”
“He (DeWine) said he was concerned that the release of the video would adversely color the perception of the witnesses, thereby making their testimony less accurate,” Wright said.
Wright said the development strengthens his longstanding contention that DeWine cannot impartially investigate the Crawford shooting.
Dan Tierney, spokesman for DeWine, declined to discuss what witnesses BCI has interviewed or whether Ritchie has seen the store footage.
He also declined to comment on Wright’s statement that DeWine assured him that a reason for not releasing the video was to ensure witness accuracy.
“We’re not going to be providing further comment on any conversation between the attorney general and the contents of the meeting that he had with the attorney and the (Crawford) family,” Tierney said.
Ritchie was the only person to call 911 before police arrived. The video is evidence that only investigators, Wright and Crawford Jr. have seen so far.
On Aug. 19, DeWine met with Wright and members of the Crawford family at Wright’s Dayton offices to express condolences and show a six-minute segment of the Walmart store video.
Ritchie’s cell phone did not accept voice mail messages Monday. Attempts to reach him weren’t successful.
Wright has long contended that the video that he saw shows a starkly different picture from the one Ritchie gave emergency dispatchers on the evening of Aug. 5, when Ritchie followed Crawford through the store.
Ritchie told dispatchers that Crawford, of Fairfield, was “waving” a bb gun at fellow Walmart customers and at one point, he said Crawford appeared to be loading ammunition into the weapon, which led to a dispatcher warning responding officers that Crawford was trying to put “bullets” into the weapon.
Wright said he sent a new letter expressing his concerns to DeWine, a letter he declined to share Monday. He said he also called U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart, the chief federal prosecutor in this part of Ohio.
Jennifer Thornton, a spokeswoman for Stewart, said, “All that I can give you is that we don’t want to speculate on any specific parts of the state investigation.”
Thornton said she did not know if her office reached out to DeWine’s office for an explanation.
Susan Brenner, University of Dayton School of Law Samuel A. McCray chair in law and an expert on grand juries, said it’s difficult to understand why investigators would show a key witness in this case the store video.
“If I were a defense attorney, I would say it could create memories that weren’t there,” Brenner said.
“It’s the same thing as sending witnesses into a grand jury or into a trial,” she added. “You don’t want them to taint each other.”