The father of a man fatally shot by police as he held an air rifle inside an Ohio Wal-Mart says he believes his son was murdered, despite a special grand jury declining to criminally charge the officers.
John Crawford Jr., whose son was shot on Aug. 5 at a Wal-Mart in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek, said at a news conference Thursday that he was appalled the officers weren't indicted. He said he welcomed an announced U.S. Justice Department probe to determine if his 22-year-old son's civil rights were violated.
"The officer went in and virtually shot him on sight," Crawford Jr. said. "He did not have a chance."
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John Crawford III was black, and the officers are white. Attorneys for Crawford's family said they hope a federal grand jury will consider if or how race was a factor in the shooting.
"It was an unarmed black man that got shot and killed in Wal-Mart, and we can't hide from that," attorney Michael Wright said. "We believe that, yes, had Mr. Crawford been Caucasian, maybe the outcome would be different. But it's very hard at this point to say that that, in fact, was the case."
Instead, they're focused on how the officers evaluated the situation and whether they acted reasonably in using deadly force after a 911 caller reported a man waving a rifle.
Crawford was shot twice by one officer, once in the elbow and once in the side under the rib area slightly from the front to the back, said prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid, who assisted special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier.
Shooting was unreasonable, lawyers say
Police said the Fairfield man didn't obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf. DeGraffenreid said Crawford was shot while holding the rifle, then dropped it, falling to the floor.
She said the officers did what they were trained to do based on the information they had when entering the store.
Crawford Jr. and the family's attorneys say surveillance video shows the shooting was unreasonable. They contend Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Piepmeier were biased and set out to defend the police.
'I think that race has always been a part of it, but I think Ferguson exploded it.' - Prentiss Haney, Ohio Student Association
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney denied the allegations, saying DeWine took pains to remove himself from the process.
Piepmeier said he was complimented after the grand jury session by pool members for an unbiased presentation by himself and Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents, Tierney said. Those agents work for DeWine.
Wright said the family is considering its legal options and that he'll seek the full investigative file from the Beavercreek police.
The Justice Department has begun its own review of police department practices. The federal government said its investigation will be "thorough and independent" and it would take appropriate action if evidence was found that civil rights laws were broken.
The Justice Department has opened civil rights investigations into the practices of some 20 police departments in the past five years. The latest is in Ferguson, Mo., where racial unrest and sometimes violent protests erupted after an officer fatally shot an unarmed, black 18-year-old on Aug. 9.
Activists who protested the handling of the Crawford case say Ferguson spurred national discussion about policy and race-related issues and prompted some people to re-examine the Wal-Mart shooting, which happened days earlier, in that context.
"I think that race has always been a part of it, but I think Ferguson exploded it," said Prentiss Haney, an organizer with the Ohio Student Association who says justice hasn't been served in the Crawford case. Walking the halls of Wright State University in a T-shirt printed with the words "Don't shoot," Haney promised more demonstrations as that federal investigation progresses.