Key counts of the civil rights case brought against Beavercreek for the shooting death of John Crawford III survived summary judgment and will advance to trial, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Most allegations against Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams — who shot twice and killed Crawford, 22, of Fairfield, on Aug. 5, 2014 — will continue. All counts against Sgt. David Darkow were dismissed.
Crawford family attorney Michael Wright said, “We are not going to comment at this time.”
U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice ruled that”genuine dispute exists as to whether Williams violated Crawford’s constitutional rights against unreasonable use of force.”
Beavercreek Law Director Stephen McHugh said Rice’s ruling is being reviewed and it “would be inappropriate to comment on the decision at this time due to this being an active case.”
The trial in Dayton’s U.S. District Court is scheduled for Feb. 4 — a day shy of 4.5 years after Crawford was shot. Rice wrote that a decision on Walmart’s motion for summary judgment will be filed separately.
Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 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 Darkow responded to Walmart, and Williams fired within seconds of seeing Crawford after allegedly shouting out commands. Crawford was on his cell phone talking to the mother of his two children.
“The facts alleged, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, could support a finding that Williams violated Crawford’s Fourth Amendment rights,” Rice wrote in his 76-page decision.
“Genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment in favor of either party on the question of whether Officer Williams reasonably believed that Crawford posed an immediate threat of serious physical harm to the officers or to others such that the use of deadly force was warranted,” Rice added. “Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Williams, a reasonable jury could find that his use of deadly force was justified. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, a reasonable jury could find that it was not.”
Most claims against Beavercreek police Chief Dennis Evers were dismissed, but federal counts related to failure to train and supervise and survivorship claims remain. Some state claims against Evers and Beavercreek also will be considered.
Rice wrote that when officers got to Walmart, “they did not observe Crawford waving the rifle around or pointing it at people or other objects. They heard no gunshots. Nor did they observe or hear anything that would lead them to believe that Crawford had threatened anyone, caused any injury or induced panic.”
The judge wrote, “In this case, the reasonableness of Williams’ use of deadly force hinges almost entirely on the question of whether, at the moment he pulled the trigger, Williams reasonably perceived Crawford to pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the officers or others. On this subject, the parties vehemently disagree.”
Rice wrote the case could turn on what jurors see when they watch the Walmart surveillance video.
A plaintiff’s expert testified that Williams fired his first shot at Crawford 1.5 seconds after Darkow gave his first verbal command and just .8 seconds after Crawford turned his head. The expert also said Williams fired his second shot .32 seconds after his first shot.
“Defendants’ own police practices expert, James Scanlon, testified that if Crawford did not rotate his body and gun toward the officers, there would have been no imminent threat of serious bodily harm and the shooting would not be justified,” Rice wrote.
The decision highlighted Darkow’s different explanations of what he saw Crawford do, that it’s normal for a person to turn their head after hearing a command and that an expert said it “takes the average person 1.5 seconds after hearing a command to evaluate what he heard, to decide to act, and then to act.”
Crawford may have needed more time to process any request, Rice wrote, because Crawford was on his phone and the officers didn’t identify themselves as police.
“If, as Officer Williams claims, Crawford took an aggressive stance and rotated his body or the rifle toward the officers, then Crawford had no clearly established right to be free from the use of deadly force,” Rice wrote. “In fact, quite the opposite is true.”
Rice cited Williams’ use of force eight times the department average and that Evers, in a deposition, had called Williams “an aggressive officer” in the judge’s reasoning to keep in claims against Beavercreek for inadequate training and supervision.