Nearly 4½ years after a police officer shot and killed a Fairfield man in Beavercreek’s Walmart, a federal judge could soon rule whether the family’s wrongful death civil suit advances to trial next month.
The civil trial is currently scheduled for Feb. 4, a day shy of 4½ years since John Crawford III, 22, was killed by officer Sean Williams in what a special prosecutor called “a perfect storm of circumstances.”
A flurry of motions have been filed, including those for summary judgment and to withhold certain facts or testimony. The requests are in front of U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice, who could decide as soon as Friday if the case proceeds.
Rice will decide on motions for summary judgment filed by Walmart in December and by Beavercreek in June 2018. The defendants make different cases and are not allied in their arguments.
“Crawford picked up an air rifle in the Beavercreek Walmart but was not shot merely because he was holding the air rifle,” Walmart’s motion for summary judgment reads. “Either there was police misconduct, or Crawford’s acts, combined with a blatantly false 911 call and inaccurate dispatch, caused the police to pull the trigger.
“There is simply no evidence that the decision to pull the trigger, even after the air rifle was mistaken for a real firearm, was foreseeable in an open carry state where Crawford could lawfully carry a real firearm.
“This set of facts had never occurred in the history of American retail. Walmart should not be held liable for lawfully displaying the air rifle the way the manufacturer intended and in a manner which is consistent with industry standards.”
Beavercreek’s motion for summary judgment includes its argument that Crawford made a threatening movement.
Crawford was shot twice by Williams on Aug. 5, 2014, while holding a BB/pellet rifle he found unpackaged on a store shelf. The lone 911 caller, Ronald Ritchie, told dispatchers a black man was holding a rifle, appeared to be loading it and waving it near people including children.
Williams and Sgt. David Darkow responded to Walmart, and Williams fired within seconds of seeing Crawford after allegedly shouting out warnings for him to drop the object. Crawford was on his cell phone talking to the mother of his two children.
Williams was not indicted by a Greene County special grand jury, and a federal civil rights probe ended years later with what was called insufficient evidence to convict anyone.
Crawford’s parents brought the civil suit against Beavercreek and Walmart in December 2014, and it has been winding its way through Dayton’s U.S. District Court ever since.
“Officer Williams perceived that Mr. Crawford was about to point the assault rifle at the officers,” Beavercreek’s motion reads. “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.
“Officer Williams’ use of force under the facts of this case was constitutionally permissible, and the Beavercreek defendants are protected by qualified immunity (federal) and government employee immunity (state).
“As such, this court should issue an order granting the Beavercreek defendants’ motion for summary judgment as a matter of law.”
Attorneys for Crawford’s parents wrote in their response that Walmart knew the Crosman MK-177 posed a danger to customers if it was handled outside its packaging “because it was likely to be confused and mistaken for a real firearm by customers or the police.”
The response also said if “Walmart’s “housekeeping policies were performed by its employees as required, then the Crosman MK-177 in Mr. Crawford’s possession at the time he was killed should have never been left on the shelf and out of its package.”
In its response to Beavercreek’s motion for summary judgment, the Crawford family attorneys wrote: that Williams’ and Darkow’s stories have changed over time and are at odds with each other; that Crawford was breaking no law, and that the officers didn’t identify themselves as police.
“In less than a second, and without time to respond, a startled John Crawford reflexively turned his head, but not his body, toward the shouting,” the response reads. “And Officer Sean Williams shot him dead.”
The testimony Beavercreek wants to ban or limit at trial included: Williams’ use of force statistics compared to his colleagues; Williams’ other fatal use of force; terms such as “toy gun” or “air rifle” to describe what Crawford held; that the item was not a real firearm; Williams’ tattoo of a warthog dressed as an officer holding a gun; the dispute between the Greater Dayton RTA and city of Beavercreek; and other recent police-involved fatal shootings.
The testimony plaintiffs wants to ban or limit at trial included: Crawford’s alleged use of marijuana or its effect; and that Ritchie’s call was a proximate or legal cause of John Crawford’s death.
Walmart also sought and was granted the ability to redact parts of depositions that talk about internal policies and procedures.
Walmart also sought to limit: that the MK-177 was out of its box; that a boy in November 2014 took a BB gun from its box, and his father mistook it for a real firearm.
Shopper Angela Williams, who tried to flee the store after haring the officer’s gunshots, died that night after a cardiac arrest. The family of the 37-year-old Springfield nursing home employee did not bring any civil action.