The family of an Ohio Wal-Mart customer fatally shot by police as he held a store BB gun filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming officers and the retailer are negligent in his death. The suit says the Beavercreek Wal-Mart was at fault for allowing the Crosman MK-177, which resembles an AR-15 rifle, to be left unlocked on a shelf for two days. As a result, 22-year-old John Crawford III was able to pick up the gun on Aug. 5 and walk around the store freely — an act that led to the tragic killing of the father of two young children, his family's lawyers say.
Wal-Mart "had every reason to know that someone might mistake a BB gun for a real gun," lawyers said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the suit, which was filed in a Dayton court. "That gun was not secured like other weapons. … This gun was left unpackaged on a shelf, and in our understanding, it was left there for two days."
Video surveillance of the shooting showed Crawford as he casually walked up and down an aisle talking on a phone and gripping the gun — at one point, leaning on the barrel like a cane. That sight had prompted people in the store to call 911. Beavercreek police came to the scene and shot him in the torso. Authorities say Crawford failed to respond to calls for him to drop the weapon.
The family in its suit is asking for at least $75,000 in restitution. The city of Beavercreek and the police department did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Tuesday. Wal-Mart said in a statement it is not responding to specifics in the case, but that its “associates acted properly.” “We take the safety of our stores very seriously so that Wal-Mart remains a safe shopping experience for our customers,” said spokesman Brian Nick. The retailer has said pellet guns would still be for sale at the Beavercreek store, but wouldn't be visibly displayed.
The death of Crawford, who was black, at the hands of white officers, has been among several cases this year of what many have called unwarranted police brutality. A local grand jury in September decided not to indict the officer who shot Crawford. "This is just the beginning as far as I’m concerned," said his dad, John Crawford Jr., at the news conference Tuesday, according to NBC affiliate WDTN in Dayton. "I’m still pursuing justice, because to me … you have to be held accountable."
— Erik Ortiz