Prosecutor: No charges against John Crawford 911 caller

Update@4 p.m.:

There will be no charges filed in Fairborn Municipal Court against the man whose 911 call to police led to the fatal shooting of John Crawford III in a Beavercreek Walmart.

Mark Piepmeier, the special prosecuting attorney appointed by Fairborn Municipal Court to consider charges against caller Ronald Ritchie, said in a finding released Monday that there is no reason to believe that Ritchie, who had briefly served in the Marine Corps, knowingly made a false report.

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“I don’t find any evidence that Mr. Ritchie knew any of the information he was providing was false,” Piepmeier wrote.

Ritchie could have faced charges of making false alarms, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by maximums of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Piepmeier noted that a Greene County Grand Jury had the authority to indict anyone they believed had criminal culpability in the Aug. 5, 2014 shooting, but declined to charge Ritchie.

Piepmeier wrote that Crawford, 22, was carrying a Crosman MK-177 pellet gun, “which is nearly identical to a Windham SRC Carbine 223 AR.”

Piepmeier added: “The original 911 call from Mr. Ritchie was basically, ‘I’m at the Beavercreek Walmart and there is a man walking around with a gun in the store.’ The remainder of his conversation was mostly answers in response to questions from the dispatcher.”

Update@1:40 p.m.:

A special prosecutor has declined to file charges against Ritchie, according to a court document filed an hour ago.

Update@12:30 p.m.:

It’s unlikely that Ronald Ritchie will be charged for making the 911 call that led to John Crawford III being shot, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine during a brief stop in our newsroom Monday morning.

“We would have to prove that when he called it in he was purposely misstating what the facts are, and there’s no evidence I have seen to indicate that when he called it in that he misrepresented purpoxsesly what was going on,” he said.

First report:

Fairborn prosecutor Betsy Deeds wants the prosecutor who led the John Crawford III special grand jury to decide whether a criminal charge is brought against 911 caller Ronald Ritchie.

The choice was criticized by a number of local legal experts.

In a motion filed in Fairborn Municipal Court, Deeds wrote that Mark Piepmeier is appointed as the special prosecutor “for the purpose of reviewing the April 5, 2016, decision and judgment entry and deciding if a criminal charge is warranted.”

Judge Beth Root determined probable cause that Ritchie — the lone 911 caller before Beavercreek police shot and killed Crawford in a Walmart Aug. 5, 2014 — had made false alarms, a first-degree misdemeanor with maximum penalties of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

“(Piepmeier) is absolutely the wrong choice,” said University of Dayton law school professor emeritus Tom Hagel, a sentiment echoed by other attorneys who said they could not comment by name. “I think it’s a mistake to appoint this guy because it immediately creates the appearance of impropriety and bias.”

Crawford, 22, of Fairfield, was killed by police. Shopper Angela Williams, 37, suffered a heart attack while rushing out of the store after officers fired the fatal shots. The U.S. Dept. of Justice has been investigating the case for more than 18 months.

Piepmeier’s office confirmed that he is the special prosecutor on the case but declined further comment. Deeds did not return a message seeking comment.

Other local attorneys said Piepmeier’s choice “raises questions.”

In September 2014, Piepmeier held a press conference explaining the case after a Greene County special grand jury cleared Beavercreek officer Sean Williams of any crimes. Sean Williams, who fired the shots that killed Crawford, was the only person considered for charges, according to Greene County court documents.

During the press conference, Piepmeier said: “The 911 caller, again, he’s trying to be a good citizen, reporting as best he can, what he’s seeing.”

Now, Piepmeier apparently will rule on Ritchie, who testified during the special grand jury and was interviewed and shown surveillance footage by Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Piepmeier is the chief assistant prosecutor for Hamilton County.

Hagel, who has said getting a conviction for making false claims would be difficult, said this case has a special need to have someone the public sees as impartial to determine whether to file a criminal complaint against Ritchie.

“The whole point of appointing a special prosecutor is somebody who can be objective about the case who has not already arrived at an opinion,” Hagel said. “If (Piepmeier) already made comments saying that (Ritchie is) just a good citizen doing his duty or something, I think that’s inappropriate and they should find somebody else.”

Piepmeier also said during that press conference that the nine members of the special grand jury heard testimony from 18 witnesses and hours of audio and video evidence. He said Ritchie was about 100 feet away from Crawford during most of the 911 call.

Deeds explained why she felt her office should not handle the case.

“In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, as the prosecutor works closely with the Beavercreek Police Department and that department is currently involved in a lawsuit stemming from the same facts and circumstances to be reviewed herein, a special prosecutor is necessary,” Deeds wrote.

“Further,” she added, “Mr. Piepmeier served as special prosecutor for Greene County when this matter was presented to the grand jury and is familiar with events and subsequent investigation upon which the current review is based.”