A police expert witness for the city of Beavercreek agreed that police officer Sean Williams’ fatal shooting of John Crawford III in 2014 was justified because the 22-year-old Fairfield man turned toward officers with an item that looked like a rifle, according to court documents.
But a pathologist expert witness for Beavercreek concluded that Crawford did not turn toward Williams and Sgt. David Darkow, citing surveillance video and the entry wounds from Williams’ bullets.
Those two statements are the basis of Crawford family attorneys’ summary judgment filing in the federal civil rights lawsuit filed in Dayton’s District Court.
The pathologist’s statements also don’t seem to match previous sworn statements of Williams and Darkow’s interviews about the Aug. 5, 2014, incident, according to the same attorneys.
“In a remarkable and unprecedented twist, those hand-picked experts seem to have taken the side of the Crawford family in this litigation and concluded John’s shooting never should have happened,” read a statement from Dennis Mulvihill and Michael Wright, the Crawford family attorneys. “Plaintiffs are unaware of any other case involving a police shooting where the experts hired by the officers to exonerate the officers actually implicate the officers instead.”
Attorney Neil Freund, representing Beavercreek, said a response to the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment will be filed before or by Aug. 8.
Freund said the legal brief will outline the defense’s position and that “we do not believe it to be appropriate to comment on pending legal matters.”
The Beavercreek defendants also have filed for summary judgment, arguing in part that: “Mr. Crawford turned towards Officer Williams and Sergeant Darkow in an aggressive manner with the assault rifle in the low ready position. The assault rifle was in a position where it could be quickly raised and fired.”
U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice has not ruled on either motion. The civil trial against Williams, Darkow, Beavercreek police Chief Dennis Evers and Beavercreek police plus separate counts against Walmart is scheduled for Feb. 4, 2019 — a day shy of 4.5 years after Crawford’s death.
A Greene County special grand jury cleared Williams of any criminal wrongdoing in September 2014. A federal investigation finished in 2017 with U.S. Department 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.
The Crawford family attorneys wrote that “the defense is actually, wholly based on the claim that John Crawford turned toward the officers — an event that never happened.”
Dr. George Nichols II, the former chief medical examiner of Kentucky, was asked in a deposition, “And John had not turned towards the officers before being shot, correct?” to which Nichols answered, “Correct.”
James Scanlon, a longtime Columbus officer and police practices expert, agreed that the action Crawford took justifying lethal force was Crawford rotating his body and gun towards Williams, according to his deposition.
Scanlon was then asked if Crawford had not rotated his body and gun that the shooting wouldn’t have been justified. “That is correct,” Scanlon said, also agreeing that there would be no imminent threat of serious bodily harm in that scenario.
Williams said in his deposition that he never saw Crawford point a gun at or threaten anyone, but he testified that he shot Crawford because the 22-year-old Fairfield resident “was about to” point a weapon at him.
Williams said that he relied on information from lone 911 caller Ronald Ritchie, who said a man was loading a rifle and pointing it at people, 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 plaintiffs’ motion also noted that some of Williams and Darkow’s accounts of what happened changed from their interviews with Beavercreek police, Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, written statements weeks later, interrogatory responses and their depositions.
The plaintiffs said Darkow had told BCI investigators that Crawford turned away from the officers and then said Crawford made a “quick movement” but didn’t specify which direction in his written statement.
Plaintiffs said Darkow then said Crawford made an aggressive movement with his rifle and “turned toward us with the assault rifle in hand” and then said in a deposition that Crawford slightly turned his body toward Williams and him.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys said their two video reconstruction experts concluded that Crawford “did not rotate his body or the gun toward the officers.”
Mulvihill and Wright said that Ohio law allows citizens to openly carry guns and that before police can use lethal force, there must be an “imminent” threat of serious bodily injury or death to others:
“The Crawford family has always maintained that holding a gun in one hand, pointed at the floor, while talking on the phone with the other hand and bothering no one, could not be defined as an imminent threat under any circumstance.”
In their motion for summary judgment, the Beavercreek defendants’ attorneys wrote that Williams “perceived that Mr. Crawford was about to point the assault rifle at the officers.
“Officer Williams perceived an imminent threat to his life, as well as the lives of the store patrons, and he made a split-second instantaneous decision to fire his weapon, killing Mr. Crawford.”
Beavercreek’s attorneys argue that their police should have qualified immunity, that Williams’ actions were “objectively reasonable and did not violate clearly established law” and that a judge cannot find that the officers’ conduct was extreme or outrageous.