The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation's reconstruction of the fatal police-involved shooting at Beavercreek's Walmart indicates the state is taking unusual steps to gather evidence in the case, law enforcement experts said Wednesday.
"You are trying to triangulate in a re-enactment physical evidence with witness statements and what could have possibly occurred," said Patrick Oliver, associate professor and the director of Cedarville University's criminal justice program.
BCI closed the Walmart on Pentagon Boulevard from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. Wednesday for a scene reconstruction, and gunshots, likely blank bullets, could be heard at about 3:45 a.m. Signs on the store's door said they were closed for maintenance from 2 to 5 a.m. The agency is investigating the Aug. 5 shooting of customer John H. Crawford III, 22, of Fairfield.
Crawford died of a gunshot wound to the torso. Police said an officer shot him after Crawford twice failed to drop a weapon, claims Crawford's family and attorney adamantly deny after seeing six minutes of surveillance video.
"The fact that BCI is actually doing a police re-enactment of the crime scene says that they're taking that extra step to ensure that they do the best job possible in collecting evidence and presenting it to the (Sept. 22 Greene County special) grand jury," said Oliver, a 27-year Ohio law enforcement veteran.
Police arrived at the scene after a 911 caller inside the store told a dispatcher a man was waving a gun around and menacing shoppers. Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 air rifle/pellet gun talking on his cell phone, witnesses said.
Beavercreek police officers Sean Williams and Sgt. David Darkow were the first on the scene, but officials have not revealed who shot Crawford. Both were placed on administrative leave immediately after the shooting, although Darkow has since returned to duty. Williams — listed on the cover sheet of a response-to-resistance report as the "primary officer" on the scene — is still on administrative leave.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Wednesday that it is not typical to re-enact shootings being investigated.
The attorney for Crawford's parents said they were not happy to learn of the re-enactment from television reports.
"I don't know what the Ohio Attorney General was trying to accomplish with this re-enactment," attorney Michael Wright said. "We are not sure why there needs to be a re-enactment when there's a video ... We still believe the video tape would shed a lot of light on what occurred in Walmart, and we do believe the public has the right to know."
But Oliver and another law enforcement expert said such exercises can benefit special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier of Hamilton County.
"The more that they reconstruct and the more deeply they go, the more that signals the fact that they're not just trying to prove one side or the other, but more that they're trying to actually gather the information to figure out what really happened," said Michael Knox of Knox & Associates, a Jacksonville, Fla. consulting company specializing in shooting reconstruction. "You gain more perspective on what somebody really saw, what they couldn't have seen ... a lot of times you're doing that to rectify differences in peoples' statements."
BCI investigators at the scene did not comment, but left a press release that read in part: "Investigators returned to the business this morning to gather additional evidence in connection with the ongoing investigation" and that BCI "conducted a reconstruction of the incident in an effort to further define the timeline of events."
Oliver said that even though a reconstruction is an artificial reproduction of circumstances, it is used to determine "whether there was a possibility that the crime occurred in the way that it was described" and that it is used to clarify "certain circumstances regarding the acts that led up to the crime."
Beavercreek city attorney Stephen McHugh declined to comment. Julie Wilson of the Hamilton County prosecutor's office wrote: "The prosecutors are not commenting further on the investigation at this time."
A Fairborn resident, Angela Williams, died the night of the shooting after suffering a medical episode as she tried to flee the store.
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