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Wrongful Death Lawsuit Over Police Walmart Shooting Of John Crawford Heads To Trial

Tressa Sherrod via Facebook
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A wrongful death lawsuit related to the fatal shooting of 22-year-old John Crawford III inside a Beavercreek Walmart store more than four years ago took a step forward Tuesday.

A federal judge ruled the case can proceed to a jury trial.

Crawford’s relatives filed the suit against the Beavercreek Police Department and Walmart after a federal investigation into the shooting closed without charges two years ago, citing insufficient evidence.

The facts of Crawford’s shooting have been widely reported:

Officer Sean Williams, who is white, shot Crawford, who was black, as Crawford held an unloaded pellet gun in the Walmart store’s sporting goods department while talking on his cell phone.

No criminal charges were brought against Williams.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice decided a jury will now hear most counts in the case, including nine counts, and a claim for punitive damages, against officer Williams, four counts against Chief Dennis Evers, and two counts against Beavercreek.

The police department has a right to appeal. 

The Crawford family's attorney Michael Wright was unable to comment directly on the decision but told WYSO he’s satisfied the case will proceed to trial. 

In his 76-page decision, the judge highlighted some of the key questions the jury will consider.

Among them are whether officer Williams perceived Crawford was an imminent threat to police or others when Williams pulled the trigger, and whether Crawford's constitutional rights were violated.

"In this case, the reasonableness of Williams' use of deadly force hinges almost entirely on the question of whether, at the moment he pulled the trigger, Williams reasonably perceived Crawford to pose an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the officers or others. On this subject, the parties vehemently disagree," the decision reads. 

The court dismissed counts against another police officer.

It’s expected to consider separately whether counts against Walmart would also go to trial, or be considered without a trial.  

Attorney Stephen M. McHugh released a statement on behalf of the City of Beavercreek: 

"The decision of Judge Rice issued earlier today is being reviewed.  It would be inappropriate to comment on the decision at this time due to this being an active case.  On advice of legal counsel, City officials, Chief Evers and Officer Williams have been advised not to comment on the decision at this time."

The trial is set to begin February 4. 

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This story has been updated to include statements from Beavercreek and the Crawford family attorney. 

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding Americainitiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.