Judge finds probable cause for 911 caller in Crawford shooting

Residents had sought charges in Beavercreek Walmart shooting.

Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Beth Root ruled that probable cause exists to prosecute the 911 caller in the John Crawford III police-involved fatal shooting after reviewing affidavits submitted by Greene County residents.

>> EARLIER: Residents seek charges in Crawford death

Root found probable cause that Ronald T. Ritchie, the lone person to call 911 from Beavercreek's Walmart before shots were fired Aug. 5, 2014, could be prosecuted for making false alarms, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by maximums of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

There is uncertainty as to what legal steps may happen next, but Root wrote that the case should be referred to a prosecutor.

Not long after the shooting, Ritchie reiterated his story to this news organization.

“He was just waving it at children, people, items, I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying,” Ritchie said then on video, later adding: “When people did look at him, he was pointing the gun at people and everything.”

Root ruled there was not probable cause to issue a criminal complaint against Ritchie for inciting to violence, inducing panic, involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.

Several private citizens filed affidavits in Fairborn Municipal Court and turned in Walmart surveillance video synchronized to the 911 call by the FBI on March 25, in reference to the shooting.

Ritchie called 911 and said there was a black man waving a rifle at people, including children, which led Beavercreek police to respond. Officer Sean Williams shot Crawford twice after police said Crawford twice did not respond to orders to drop the BB/pellet gun he picked up from store shelves.

Crawford, 22, of Fairfield, died from his injuries, as did shopper Angela Williams, 37, who suffered a heart attack while rushing out of the store after shots were fired.

Williams was cleared by a Greene County special grand jury, which declined to indict him. Williams remains on administrative duty pending a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation that is ongoing more than 18 months later. No other people were considered for charges by the special grand jury.

Attorney Michael Wright, who represents the Crawford family in their civil suit against Beavercreek police and Walmart, said Wednesday evening that, “based on the video we do know that he was making assertions that were not correct. However, it wasn’t his fault that John Crawford is dead.”

Root wrote that the video — which she said was of poor quality — “contains approximately four minutes of Ronald Ritchie’s 911 call with accompanying footage of Mr. Crawford before the video shows the officer arriving. The video does depict Mr. Crawford swinging or waving an item in a casual manner while looking at a shelf at the time of the call.

“The item appears to be a rifle. At one point the caller advises that it appears that Mr. Crawford is trying to load the rifle. It is difficult to discern from the video what Mr. Crawford is doing at this point in time. The court does note that at the time that Ronald Ritchie is relaying to dispatch that Mr. Crawford is pointing the gun at two children, the video does not depict this event.”

Telephone numbers for Ronald Ritchie have been disconnected.

This news organization is asking questions as to what happens next in any possible prosecution. Messages have been left with Fairborn prosecutor Betsy Deeds. Root was not available late Wednesday afternoon, according to her bailiff.

Root ruled that the preamble to the affidavits was not considered because it was not an affidavit and that two citizens’ affidavits were not thrown out because of issues with the notarization.

Root said that all the information in the affidavits were from the video and any facts alleged not in the video were not considered. She also indicated her investigation was limited to what was submitted by residents.

“The court notes in this decision that it does not know whether this matter may have already been presented to a grand jury for review since grand jury proceedings are not public record,” Root wrote. “This court makes its determination based upon the facts in evidence and the standard of proof that applies at this time.”

The affidavits were filed under the same law citizens used in getting a probable cause finding against police officers in the Tamir Rice case.

Ohio Revised Code 2935.09 is titled "Person having knowledge of offense to file affidavit — official review before complaint filed."

The law states that “a ‘reviewing official’ means a judge of a court of record, the prosecuting attorney or attorney charged by law with the prosecution of offenses in a court or before a magistrate, or a magistrate.”

In June 2015, a University of Dayton law school professor said a similar tactic could be tried in the Crawford case.

In June 2015, Cleveland Municipal Judge Ronald B. Adrine found probable cause a few days after citizens turned in affidavits that police officer Timothy Loehmann should face murder and other counts in Rice’s death and that others also should face charges.

In December 2015, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced that a grand jury voted not to bring an indictment against any law enforcement officers.

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