When Beavercreek police confronted John Crawford III in Walmart on the night of Aug. 5, he ignored their commands to drop his weapon and get on the ground, the officers told investigators who interviewed them after the shooting.
“I raised my sights up — he still had the rifle — and I fired two shots center-mass at him,” Officer Sean Williams told investigators less than three hours after he shot the 22-year-old Fairfield man as the victim what turned out to be a BB gun.
The recording of that interview as well as that of several other witnesses, were recently released by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). They offer a level of details in a description of the event from immediate participants not previously made public.
Williams said he saw a man with a rifle standing in a store aisle, matching the description dispatchers had given him of a black man waving a weapon at shoppers.
After Williams shot Crawford, he said the Crawford fell, dropped the BB rifle and moved past the end of the aisle. He then rose and moved toward the rifle, as Williams described the scene. Both Williams and another officer, Sgt. David Darkow, said Crawford rose or tried to rise after he was shot.
“He sounded like he was saying something,” Williams said. “At that point, I couldn’t hear anything because I had just fired the shots.”
Williams was about to fire more shots when Crawford collapsed for a final time, bleeding “profusely,” the officer said.
Crawford was declared dead that night at Miami Valley Hospital. A specially convened Greene County grand jury last month chose not to indict Williams or anyone else involved in the shooting.
Darkow said he did not fire his weapon. But he added that he “probably would have” had Crawford moved into the aisle or in Darkow’s line of sight. Darkow took pains to support Williams.
“We had a suspect who, what I felt, posed a serious threat of physical, serious physical harm or death to ourselves and everyone else in the Walmart,” Darkow said in the interview.
Darkow recounted what a 911 caller had told dispatchers: That a man had “what we believed could be a deadly firearm” and was loading it.
“I knew one thing, and that was there was no way we could allow him to get out,” Darkow said.
Brad Spicer, a New Jersey-based security consultant with law enforcement and military experience, said officers have an obligation to reassess what they’ve been told, by a dispatcher or a citizen, once they’re on the scene of what they have been told is a crime.
In this situation, Spicer said, it might have been good for officers to realize, “I didn’t hear a gunshot. I didn’t see anyone screaming.”
But he asked observers to understand the stress police experience. They go into a rapidly developing unknown situation bearing responsibility for the lives of those around them, Spicer said.
“You have stress, you have fear, you have a time-clock ticking,” Spicer said. “We call that ‘extreme survival stress.’”
“We would love to have law enforcement agencies that never make mistakes,” Spicer added. “Unfortunately, that is never going to happen.”
A spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who enlisted BCI in the investigation of the shooting, said no one was available to comment Monday, Columbus Day, a government holiday.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself “Anonymous” is pledging to launch into what a website calls a “cyber war” against the city of Beavercreek.
“Anonymous” activists are demanding that Williams be fired, that criminal charges be brought against Riverside resident Ronald Ritchie — the only person who called 911 prior to the shooting, bringing police to the Walmart store — and that someone “publicly apologize” to the Crawford family.
“These are typical opening shots in an Anonymous cyber war,” said a website, called the “Anti-Media,” whose blogger said he spoke with “Anonymous” activists.
The site features a photo of a masked man standing in what looks like the middle of Pentagon Boulevard near the Walmart store where Crawford was shot, holding a sign saying, “I am John Crawford.”
The site says Anonymous in the past conducted actions “attacking the local economy, campaign donors, and any organization supporting the offending government agency” if its demands are not met.
Beavercreek Police Capt. Eric Grile said the city is aware of the group and its threats. Last week, police responded to a “sit-in” of activists at the city’s police station. That gathering gradually disbanded peacefully after about three days.
“The anonymous group made statements early on so we put security in place right then,” Grile told a WHIO-TV reporter.
Grile said the city took internal steps to improve security measures. He said those steps included updating a computer system, and reminding employees not to click on suspicious emails or links.
The city has not had any breaches so far, Grile said.
Beavercreek law director Stephen McHugh said the city was aware of the group, but declined to comment.
Orders to drop weapon
An attorney, Vincent Popp, was present at both interviews, representing Williams and Darkow.
In the recording, Williams described his actions from the time of the first dispatch. When the call first came in, he was parked behind the store, he told interviewers.
“I was right there,” he said.
He heard dispatch advise responding officers of a “subject with a gun” inside the store.
“There’s a black male, waving a gun around, and he was loading it in the back of the store, or in the store,” he said. “They did mention that he was in the pet (goods) area.”
He pulled to the front of the store, called “on scene,” and then “deployed my rifle,” Williams said. In his interview, Darkow said both men had an “AR” rifle.
When Darkow arrived, they entered the store. Williams said he asked “a few people” in the crowded store if they had seen anybody with a gun and was told, “No, no.”
“We were just carefully looking down each aisle,” Williams said. “As we got closer to the pet area, we just started to slow a little bit.”
They reached the end of the main concourse, the pet goods areas, near the entrance to the store’s garden center.
“As I did the check (of a store aisle), I heard him say, ‘Drop the weapon,’” Williams said.
“Darkow said that?” an interviewer asked Williams.
“Yeah, Darkow said that,” Williams replied. “I don’t know the exact phrasing. ‘Drop the weapon.’”
Darkow ordered Crawford to drop what they later saw was a BB gun at least twice, perhaps three times, as Williams describes what happens. Williams refers to commands from Darkow at least three times in his interview, but he may have referred to a single command more than once.
Darkow said he was the first to speak to Crawford.
“I said ‘Drop the gun,’” Darkow said. “I remember hearing Sean yelling at him to drop the weapon. I yelled at him to get on the ground.”
Darkow said that at the first verbal command, Crawford “startled — I mean he noticeably startled back. He looked up, saw us and startled. We shocked him; it was very evident that our presence had shocked him.
“He did not drop the gun, he did not get on the ground, despite both of us giving him verbal commands to do so,” he added. “In fact, he began making motions as though he was either going to duck behind the endcap (of the aisle) or dart, it would have been east, through the store, as best as I can describe it.”
Said Williams, “If he got around us, or escaped to the left, to where he was headed, he was going to be an immediate threat to everyone inside the store.”
Reporter Jessica Heffner contributed to this story.