The Beavercreek police officer who fired the weapon that killed John Crawford III inside a Walmart store on Aug. 5, 2014, had 36 “response to resistance” incidents between 2006 and 2013 — 10 times more than the average for his fellow officers during that time period.
Sean Williams also was involved in the only two fatal shootings in Beavercreek police history, including the Walmart shooting.
According to information independently verified by this news organization and compiled by the attorneys for Crawford’s family, the other 57 officers that worked for Beavercreek in that eight-year time frame averaged 3.56 uses of force, though 20 of those officers were not employed for that entire time. The time frame covers Williams’ first eight years on the force.
“He’s off the charts,” said Michael Wright, one of the Crawford family attorneys who filed a federal civil wrongful death lawsuit against Beavercreek police and Walmart that is still stalled because the U.S. Dept. of Justice investigation is not complete after 22 months. “This guy was basically an accident waiting to happen.”
The second-most uses of force for Beavercreek police during that eight-year span was 19 and only six of 58 officers had 10 or more incidents.
“Williams was the most violent officer on the force by a wide margin,” Wright said.
Williams was cleared in the Crawford shooting of any criminal wrongdoing by a Greene County special grand jury and a departmental review found he acted appropriately.
Williams’ personnel evaluation from 2014, in which he made $78,787, included a grade of “exceeds expectations” in enforcement tactics.
“Sean closely follows use of force policies by never applying inappropriate amounts of force,” Beavercreek police Capt. Scott Molnar wrote in a 2014 review. “He displays a strong commitment to his own safety and that of other officers. He constantly takes precautions to protect the safety of citizens, suspects, and prisoners.”
Beavercreek police Chief Dennis Evers answered a question about how one officer could have 10 times the department’s average use of force incidents. Evers’ response began:
“The Beavercreek Police Department is committed to law enforcement excellence. In keeping with that commitment, the Beavercreek Police Department has successfully participated in the accreditation process and best law enforcement practices of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) since 1999. Each time there is a use of force by a Beavercreek police officer, there is a multi-layered supervisory review all the way up to the Chief of Police.
“The purpose of this review is to ensure policy compliance with CALEA standards. Incidents involving Officer Sean Williams or any officer are subjected to this thorough review process to determine if the use of force was justified and in compliance with policy and training protocols. With the exception of the pending litigation regarding John Crawford, Officer Williams has never had a complaint filed against him for excessive use of force.”
Williams was disciplined after an internal affairs report — not a formal complaint — found that he violated several departmental standards when a U.S. Air Force captain said Williams “pushed past her” to talk to a teenager, swore and told her not to touch him during an investigation in August 2011.
A supervising officer wrote that Williams said of the incident that he “would have been justified grabbing her arm back and throwing her across the lawn.”
A March 2007 citizen complaint alleged that Williams shoved a woman and yelled at her. A supervising officer ruled the complaint unfounded after the complainant did not follow up to be interviewed.
Williams had multiple complaints against him for swearing at people and he was disciplined for them.
“He had many citizen complaints against him,” Wright said of Williams. “John Crawford was the inevitable conclusion of poor training, little intra-departmental discipline, and typical protect your own police reaction to many prior violent actions by officer Williams.”
Use of force factors
Asked if Williams perhaps showed more initiative or worked in an area that had more use of force potential, Evers’ statement concluded:
“Certainly, the time of day and the district assigned may impact the number of use of force incidents involving an officer. An officer working in a retail area, for example, which is the case with Officer Williams, increases the likelihood that a use of force may be required.
“Retail areas, like shopping centers, bars and liquor establishments, often have higher crime rates because of incidents involving theft, drug and alcohol abuse, and assault. Citizens under the influence of drugs and alcohol are often combative and resist arrest.”
Williams also was the shooter in the department’s only other fatal case, a 2010 incident in which he was cleared by a grand jury after shooting Scott Brogli. Williams and other officers responded after 911 calls about a domestic violence incident at Primrose Place apartments. Beavercreek police said Brogli charged at Williams with a large knife.
‘A strong team spirit’
Williams’ 2015 review by Beavercreek police Capt. Eric Grile met the “exceeds expectations” in seven of 14 categories. Williams earned $76,545 in 2015.
“This was a difficult year for Sean,” Grile wrote. “He was on administrative duty the entire year of 2015, pending the outcome of the (DOJ) investigation of the shooting on August 5, 2014. The restricted duty was based on a commitment made by the chief, and not on any mandate by DOJ or other agency.”
Williams was reviewed as an “investigations secretary” since he couldn’t be assessed as an officer. His review said he worked on police accreditation and assisted with records in the investigative section.
“Sean completed any assignment without question,” Grile wrote. “He has never complained about his limited tasks, and still shows a strong team spirit.”
Wright said it was a slap in the face that Williams was still employed. “There’s absolutely no reason why he should have a gun and a badge, even sitting at a desk,” Wright said.
When told of Williams’ place on top of the response to resistance chart and the officer’s positive reviews, Crawford Jr. said: “The (police) culture is so demanding and is so powerful, that the good officers, a lot of them, are afraid to even challenge (it). They won’t do it. They won’t challenge the integrity of the culture in fear of backlash.”
DOJ investigation ongoing
Crawford’s parents and their attorneys sent a letter to the DOJ on Thursday asking it to end the secretive investigation and make a decision. A DOJ spokeswoman on Thursday said, “We have no update to provide.”
U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice has allowed Williams and Sgt. David Darkow to avoid depositions until the DOJ probe is complete.
Wright isn’t sure if Williams’ use of force statistics are being evaluated in the ongoing U.S. Dept. of Justice investigation of the Walmart shooting.
“I would hope that this is information that they know, that they have and that they are considering when judging the conduct of officer Williams,” Wright said.
Other cases settled
Crawford is one of several high-profile cases involving black males killed by police.
Legal proceedings are stalled in Crawford’s case long after many other cities have settled claims brought by the families of the other men.
Multi-million settlements have been reached with the families of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Sam DuBose in Cincinnati, Eric Garner in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, among other high-profile cases. The settlements have come whether officers were indicted or not and whether or not officers have been convicted or acquitted.
“There’s absolutely no discussion related to resolving this matter with this family. We are litigating. We are taking depositions. We are doing those things necessary to prepare this family and this case for trial,” Wright said. “They are grieving, but yet having to still fight with the city of Beavercreek and the police department and Walmart because they are still seeking justice for their grandchildren.”
Beavercreek city attorney Stephen McHugh confirmed that no settlement offer has been discussed.
“Down the road? Certainly, I would think the court at some point … the court’s policy is to encourage settlement, but there is no discussion at this point with respect to any settlement,” McHugh said. “The city’s position has been that the officers did nothing wrong and that remains the city’s position with respect to the lawsuit.”
Wright said Crawford’s parents have advocated for peace, perhaps to their detriment. “I think those (other) cities are taking the approach of ‘Let’s try to resolve this claim with the families. Let’s try to heal and let’s try to move forward.’ It does not appear that Beavercreek is taking that approach at all.”
Cleveland case addresses delays
A ruling by a federal judge in Cleveland may give Wright an argument to take to Judge Rice.
Attorney Al Gerhardstein represents the family of Tanisha Anderson, who he called a mentally unstable woman who died of positional asphyxiation in November 2014. Gerhardstein said Anderson’s family wanted help to get Anderson to a facility when officers tried to push her into a car, handcuffed her and pushed her to the ground.
The police officers involved — much like Williams and Darkow — haven’t been made available for depositions in the civil case.
“They have been dragging out the criminal investigation for 20 months,” Gerhardstein said of common pleas prosecutors. “It’s the same issue. How long can an officer who’s not been indicted hide behind the phantom criminal case and avoid being held accountable in the civil case?”
Gerhardstein said he got a court order from U.S. District Court Judge Donald Nugent stating that if the officers aren’t indicted by Sept. 1, then they must answer the complaint by Sept. 14 and submit to discovery including depositions.
“I think that it’s reasonable for the Crawford family … to seek an order from the court that balances their right to finality when they’re seeking justice against this alleged, potential, inchoate, really, criminal case that doesn’t exist,” said Gerhardstein, who helped negotiate the Sam DuBose settlement.
Wright said the Anderson case may give them some precedent. “That does seem to give us a little bit of hope that we may be able to take the officers’ deposition,” he said, adding that they are prepared for the February 2017 trial date that likely will be pushed back.
“We’re happy to have that trial because everyone saw the video. Everyone knows that John did nothing wrong. You have an ultra-aggressive police officer who has 10 times the use of force issues than (the average officer) in his department.
“The fact that they are protecting this bad apple, I think that that’s a problem,” Wright said. “We just need this guy to be on desk duty for the rest of his career or go do something else.”
Gerhardstein said he’s surprised Beavercreek hasn’t moved toward a settlement.
“If, in fact, the Beavercreek community feels as that law director does, that the officer did nothing wrong, I would encourage the community to really do some deep soul-searching,” he said. “I would hope that the Beavercreek community would recognize that this is a shooting that should not have happened.”
.33 of a second
Crawford Jr., a parole and probation officer and the son of a 30-year Army veteran, said the DOJ investigation is where his focus lies.
“Right now it’s the fastest kill in American history,” he said. “They’re still trying to find one faster. That in 33 hundredths of a second, that my son turned, aimed the gun, pointed it towards them and therefore he felt threatened for his life and he had to shoot him. And we can clearly see that that’s a lie. Everything that they said are lies.”
Crawford Jr. said once people see the evidence, the outcome should be obvious.
“They can’t give me anything other than a conviction. I won’t accept anything less than that,” Crawford Jr. said. “We’re the only case where (special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier) essentially exonerates the victim… . At the same time, when he was prosecuting, he played defense attorney. There’s a lot of irony involved in that.
“(Piepmeier) said (my son) didn’t commit a crime. He did nothing wrong. They killed someone who didn’t deserve to die.”
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