Officer who killed Walmart shopper carrying air rifle won't face federal charges, Justice Dept. says

Victim John Crawford III was from Fairfield

DAYTON, Ohio - The Justice Department says it won't bring federal charges against a white police officer who killed a black shopper carrying an air rifle in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, in 2014.

The case involved a 22-year-old Fairfield man, John Crawford III, who had taken a BB/pellet gun off a store shelf. A 911 caller reported that a man was pointing a gun at customers, and police charged into the store. Store surveillance video shows that Officer Sean Williams shot Crawford.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern Ohio said evidence from their investigation was “insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Williams violated [Crawford’s] federal civil rights.”

WATCH the store surveillance video below:

The Justice Department release said it had informed Crawford’s family of its decision. The family had accused Williams of using excessive force.

The release explained that the Justice Department investigation had to meet a higher standard than in a state homicide case.

A special prosecutor from Hamilton County, Mark Piepmeier, did not press state charges against Williams. Piepmeier said a Greene County grand jury in Xenia had considered charges of murder, reckless homicide and negligent homicide, but they found Williams' actions were "justified."

MK-177 Air Rifle by Crosman - the model John Crawford III was carrying.

“Federal authorities were tasked with determining whether Officer Williams violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Mr. Crawford,” the DOJ release said.  “Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors would be required to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived Mr. Crawford of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities would be required to show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence, necessity, or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.

“To establish that Officer Williams acted willfully, the government would be required both to disprove his stated reason for the shooting – that he was in fear of death or serious bodily injury – and to affirmatively establish that Officer Williams instead acted with the specific intent to violate Mr. Crawford’s rights. The evidence here simply cannot satisfy those burdens.  Accordingly, the review into this incident has been closed without prosecution.”

Federal officials said their career investigators and prosecutors reviewed all available video from the Crawford shooting as well as investigative reports by the Beavercreek Police Department and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation; forensic evidence reports; the autopsy report, photographs of the crime scene, toxicology reports and EMS reports.

“Prosecutors also obtained assistance from an independent crime scene reconstruction expert to aid in understanding the exact perspectives held by the officers who confronted Mr. Crawford,” the release said.  “In addition, the FBI conducted its own interviews of relevant witnesses, including interviews with personnel at the Beavercreek Police Department who were responsible for training Officer Williams.”

The shooting of Crawford on Aug. 5, 2014 preceded the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland later that year and sparked nationwide protests.

Rice, 12, was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland playground. Brown, 18, was unarmed but had fought with an officer and tried to take his weapon, according to the officer. No charges were filed against the white officers who killed them, even after the DOJ investigated the Brown case.

The DOJ has not commented on whether it will investigate the 2015 killing of a black motorist in Cincinnati. Sam DuBose was shot in the head during a traffic stop by then University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing. Two trials have ended in hung juries, and prosecutor Joe Deters hasn’t announced whether he will try Tensing a third time.

The DOJ was successful in getting a guilty plea from a South Carolina officer this year in the Walter Scott shooting. After a state trial ended in a hung jury, officer Michael Slager took a plea deal to federal charges that could send him to prison for 25 years. Slager shot Scott, 50, in the back five times as he ran away from a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina. 

“The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the FBI are committed to investigating allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated,” the DOJ release said. ”The department will aggressively prosecute criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.”

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