The family of an African-American man shot and killed by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart is pushing for a Department of Justice investigation into his death.
Last month, 22-year-old John Crawford III was shot and killed by police officers in Beavercreek, Ohio, while shopping in a local Wal-Mart store. He was unarmed, but picked up a BB gun off the shelf, prompting another customer to call the police to the store. Police claimed that when Crawford refused to comply with their orders to drop what they perceived to be a weapon, they opened fire.
Crawford’s family has been fighting for the public release of the surveillance tapes from Wal-Mart since early August. On Friday, Michael Wright, an attorney for the family, told msnbc that he and the family had finally been permitted to view a total of seven minutes from the surveillance footage from the scene of the shooting.
According to Wright, the video showed the last five minutes of Crawford’s life. “It appeared he was on his cell phone, he was facing the shelf, and the next thing you see is him laying on the floor. He was not even aware that there were other people in the aisle or that there were police in the aisle,” said Wright.
“We want the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys to get involved to help investigate. There’s been no transparency. There have been so many things that have been portrayed as totally one-sided related to this case,” he added. “Based on what we saw in the video, it’s the polar opposite of how the public has viewed the case. Mr. Crawford was doing nothing wrong. He picked up a BB gun, unpackaged on the shelf, and ends up dead a few minutes later.”
A spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s office told msnbc that the cruiser cam video and 911 call were released by the Beavercreek Police Department, because they are part of the public record. “We have a video that shows what occurred, so why is everything else being disseminated, but the video that shows everything as it occurred is not being produced?” Wright said. Wal-Mart cameras are privately owned and therefore under different public records laws and were not required to be released.
Walmart spokesperson Brian Nick told msnbc, “All of the materials requested by law enforcement have been turned over. We’ve obviously turned over all surveillance footage to local police, and shortly thereafter, the Ohio attorney general and the state’s Criminal Bureau of Investigation took over and we provided them with everything they’ve asked for.” He added that Wal-Mart will “continue to cooperate with this ongoing investigation,” but indicated that the footage would not be released to the public while the investigation was ongoing.
“Wal-Mart is not being cooperative at all. They have no legal prohibition from releasing the video footage but they choose not to. The Ohio Attorney General’s office has also decided not to release the video,” Wright said. Wright said he has contacted the Department of Justice and that they indicated they are monitoring the situation.
Msnbc has reached out to the Beavercreek Police Department for comment but have not heard back at this time.
Last Saturday, local activists and community members in Beavercreak held a rally at the Beavercreek Wal-Mart to protest the store’s refusal to release the surveillance tapes. Attorney Wright said that another rally, hosted by local pastors, is planned for this weekend.
A spokesperson for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office told msnbc that their initial investigation of the incident is close to complete, but there are no plans to release the video footage immediately. It will be turned over to a special prosecutor who has been appointed for the case, and the footage may not be made available until after it is reviewed by a grand jury. The grand jury is currently scheduled to convene on September 22nd; it was previously scheduled for September 3rd but had been pushed back.
The national civil rights activist group ColorOfChange.org has launched a campaign asking its national membership to petition Walmart to release surveillance tapes from the Beavercreek store the day of Crawford’s killing.
“Wal-Mart is the largest employer of black people in this country, a company that markets to and is trying to grow their brand in black and urban communities,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange. ”Do they care?”
Crawford’s death happened just days before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and just a few weeks after the death of Eric Garner, who was killed after being placed in a chokehold by New York City police. The deaths of Brown, Garner, and Crawford have sparked a national conversation this summer about excessive use of force by police, and the rash of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white men.