Judge: Civil Suit Around Crawford Police Shooting Will Go Forward

Judge Walter Rice ruled that while not directly responsible for the police shooting death of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart, a reasonable jury could find the chain has some liability in the incident.

click to enlarge John Crawford III
John Crawford III

Much of a civil suit brought by the family of John Crawford III over his shooting death by Beavercreek police in a Walmart-Mart will go to trial, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice threw out a wrongful death claim against the retail chain. But Rice also ruled that a reasonable jury might find Walmart liable for negligence and other claims made by the Crawford family.

Beavercreek Police officer Sean Williams shot Crawford twice Aug. 5, 2014 after Williams and Beavercreek Police Sgt. David Darkow arrived at the store to respond to a 911 call by customer Ronald Ritchie about a black male carrying and possibly loading a rifle in the store. Crawford had a Crosman MK-177 pellet rifle that he'd picked up in the store slung over his shoulder at the time.

Video shows Williams shot Crawford within seconds of seeing him in an aisle at the store. The officers say they shouted verbal commands at Crawford, who did not immediately respond. Crawford, who was on his cellphone at the time of the shooting, died soon afterward. A Green County grand jury declined to indict Williams in the incident. A separate federal civil rights investigation ended in 2017 with no action taken.

The civil suit seeks damages from Walmart for Crawford’s death, pointing out that the pellet gun was out of its packaging when Crawford picked it up and that multiple store employees, including two managers, knew Crawford was walking around with the pellet gun but did not take any action. At least one employee expressed concern that the pellet gun could be mistaken for a real weapon.

“In the court’s view, based on the evidence presented, a reasonable jury could find that Walmart breached its duty to take reasonable precautions to protect its customers from foreseeable dangers,” Rice wrote in his 38-page ruling today.

Rice found that, while it wasn’t against the law for Walmart to have the pellet gun out of packaging that bore a warning about how realistic the rifle looks, a jury could find that the store should have replaced it instead of leaving it on the shelf unpackaged. Rice also ruled that a jury could find that Walmart did not do enough to warn Crawford about dangers involved with the product it was selling.

Walmart has argued that it could not have foreseen police officers shooting and killing a man holding a rifle in Ohio, which is an open carry state, and that, because Crawford’s shooting was a potential criminal matter, the chain can’t be held liable for the actions of the officers.

The civil trial around the lawsuit will begin Oct. 28.