BEAVERCREEK, OH — A man was killed by police while browsing the aisles of a Walmart shopping center, talking on a cell phone, and carrying a product sold in the store: a plastic air rifle. His final gasps for breath were heard via a phone conversation he was having with another person at the time of the shooting.
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Twenty-two year old John Crawford III, of Fairfield, was shopping at the Beavercreek Walmart with his girlfriend on the morning of August 5th, 2014. After entering the store together, the couple walked in different directions to gather items that they needed to purchase.
“He went around the corner he wasn’t gone for maybe five minutes on the telephone,” said Tasha Thomas, Crawford’s girlfriend. “The next thing I know, we were all being shoved out the store saying someone was just shot.”
While meandering around the store, with his phone pressed to his ear, Mr. Crawford picked up a Crosman MK-177 Air Rifle from the Walmart shelves. He did not even pause in the aisle to examine it; he simply picked up the unboxed rifle as he strolled by, amidst his phone conversation.
The rifle is made primarily of plastic and shoots 0.177 inch balls using air pressure. It is regarded as a tool for competitive gaming (Airsoft) and varmint control.
As Mr. Crawford walked through the aisles while completing his shopping, another customer perceived him as a threat and called the government to deal with him. The 9-1-1 caller went on to provide a sensationalized description of the harmless shopper.
“There is a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” a man named Ronald Ritchie reported during his panicked 9-1-1 call. “He’s like pointing it at people… He’s like loading it right now.”
Beavercreek police officers arrived on the scene, and a deadly confrontation followed. Sgt. David Darkow and Officer Sean Williams each fired upon Crawford, who died from gunshot wounds at 9:25 a.m. that morning.
The police claimed that they issued several verbal warnings to Mr. Crawford before opening fire. That version of events has been contested by several people, including the woman on the other end of the phone conversation, and those who have viewed the surveillance video; namely Crawford’s father and attorney Michael Wright.
“The footage we saw, he didn’t know the officers were in the store. There was no reaction (from him) at all by the time the trigger was pulled,” said the decedent’s father, John Crawford, Jr. “We were waiting to see him menacing, waving this thing in a threatening position with women or children. None of that happened from the footage we saw. He wasn’t doing anything. He was just standing there.”
“All this nonsense of (officers saying) ‘Put the weapon down’ two or three times; There was no reaction from him. There couldn’t have been a cadence given,” the victim’s father added.
LeeCee Johnson, who heard his last gasps over the phone, agreed that the order of the shooting took place before police issued commands.
“The next thing I know, he said, ‘Its not real,’ and the police start shooting,” recalled Ms. Johnson. “And they said, ‘get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him.”
Police have defended the shooting, claiming that officers were acting out of fear for their lives.
“It was an execution, no doubt about it,” alleged Crawford’s father. “It was flat-out murder. And when you see the footage, it will illustrate that.”
The elder Crawford argues that his son did not threaten anyone, and carried the rifle against his shoulder because “the rifle maybe got heavy to him.”
“You can clearly see people walk past him, and they didn’t think anything about it. Everybody was just kind of minding their own business,” his father added. “He wasn’t acting in any type of way that he would have been considered menacing, if you will.”
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The graphic surveillance video has been released. Multiple cameras inside Walmart depicted John Crawford III walking around the store and the moment he was gunned down by officers carrying real rifles. While Mr. Crawford and police appeared on different camera angles at the moment of the shooting, the time-stamped side-by-side recordings along with the accompanying audio give a sufficient picture of what took place.
The first audible statements made by police occurred at approximately 8:26:55 a.m. The first shots rang out at 8:26:57 a.m. That left roughly 2 seconds for Mr. Crawford to realize police officers were training rifles at him — all while he was standing idly, preoccupied with a phone call.
The video shows Mr. Crawford in the corner of the store, staring at items on the shelf in front of him, when officers made their move.
Adding to the frustration of the public is the fact that the grand jury declined to deliver any indictments to the shooters for killing Mr. Crawford.
Special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier declared that the officers were “justified in their actions.”