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DeWine defends withholding video of Walmart shooting

Published: Friday, August 29, 2014 @ 4:39 PM
Updated: Friday, August 29, 2014 @ 7:33 PM

            DeWine defends not releasing Walmart shooting video
DeWine defends not releasing Walmart shooting video

It would be "playing with dynamite" to release the Walmart surveillance video of Beavercreek police shooting and killing John Crawford III because it may hinder prosecution of any defendants, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said.

In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, DeWine said Friday that releasing the video of the Aug. 5 police-involved shooting would allow a defense attorney to argue about a tainted jury pool.

"I think that it is playing with dynamite, frankly, to release that tape at this point," DeWine said. "And I think the dynamite simply is that it blows up and you can't get a fair trial. That's what we worry about."

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A special Greene County grand jury is scheduled to hear evidence Sept. 22 presented by special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier from Hamilton County. Piepmeier will convene the hearings to determine if grand jurors believe there is probable cause that Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams, Sgt. David Darkow or anyone else committed a crime.

Crawford, 22, of Fairfield, died of a gunshot wound to the torso after police said he twice didn't respond to commands to drop a weapon, a characterization the Crawford family attorneys deny. The item Crawford was carrying was an MK-177 (.177 caliber) Crosman airgun rifle BB/pellet gun that Crawford had minutes earlier picked up from a shelf inside Walmart. Witnesses said Crawford was talking on his cell phone when the shooting happened.

A 911 caller said he saw a 6-foot black man waving a rifle-type gun at customers, including children. That prompted Beavercreek police to respond to Walmart in about three minutes. Beavercreek officials said Williams remains on administrative leave while Darkow is back at work. Officials have not said who shot Crawford.

A rally is scheduled for 1 p.m. today in the Beavercreek Walmart parking lot for supporters of the Crawford family and those calling for release of the video. A 4 p.m. Sunday rally is planned for supporters of the Beavercreek police. Joining the call for the surveillance to be released is the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, whose president sent a letter to DeWine on Thursday.

"I am deeply concerned that information has not been released within a time-frame that inspires confidence — particularly within the African-American community," wrote Alicia Reece, an Ohio Rep. from Cincinnati. "To be blunt, there is no reasonable reason that a copy of surveillance video(s) and communications between the store and officers shouldn't be released."

Reece wrote that she learned lessons when she was Cincinnati's vice mayor in 2001 and 19-year-old Timothy Thomas was fatally shot by that city's police force, setting off four days of riots. "While Cincinnati now has one of the models for better police community relations, lessons from that tragedy and those that we are witnessing in real time can only lead to one conclusion — transparency and early release of information is the only way to keep confidence in the process."

DeWine said Friday that he is sending a response to Reece that will say: "The ultimate responsibility of a prosecuting attorney is to seek justice ... the release of this tape at this point, prior to the seating of a grand jury, would not be in the interest of justice."

Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward said he was disappointed in DeWine, who he said had promised to release video the day DeWine showed six minutes of it to Crawford's parents and attorneys.

"As a leader of our state, for him to tell me he was going to send me a copy of that video and then don't do it, that just really hasn't settled well with me," said Foward, who made several public records requests to Beavercreek for police and fire department information.

DeWine confirmed that on Aug. 19, his office contemplated releasing the video to the NAACP. He said he understood Foward's impression.

"I think when I talked with (Foward), I thought there was a distinct possibility that" it would be released," DeWine said. "But the more we looked at it, the more we thought about it, and the more we talked to prosecuting attorneys, we came to the conclusion that we would not release it."

On Friday, DeWine also said:

  • Piepmeier officially has been appointed to serve as the special prosecutor. An email response from Piepmeier indicates he is out of the office until Sept. 12.
  • The U.S. Attorney's Office can step in anytime and order a civil rights investigation, but that isn't what U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart said he would do.
  • Surveillance video from bank robberies and convenience stores police routinely release before adjudication don't apply. "All I can talk about is this particular case," he said. "I think this case is different."

As to why 911 calls, radio dispatch traffic and dash-cam video have been released and the surveillance video has not, DeWine said that information was first released by Beavercreek officials — though the AG's office also released some due to public records laws — likely because Beavercreek's attorney said they had no choice.

"We do have a choice in regard to this video," DeWine said. "We believe it is part of the investigation and we believe we have every right not to release it. I certainly would not have done that without consulting all the lawyers in our office."