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Feds to Probe Fatal Police Shooting of Black Man at Ohio Wal-Mart

The Justice Department has opened an investigation after a grand jury declined to indict a Beavercreek officer who killed a man holding a pellet gun.

The Justice Department said Wednesday it will launch an investigation into the shooting death of a black man inside an Ohio Wal-Mart, just hours after a local grand jury voted not to indict the white police officer who shot him.

Immediately after Wednesday's grand jury decision, the city of Beavercreek publicly requested that the FBI review the officers’ actions to determine if there were any civil rights violations.

On Aug. 5, two Beavercreek Police officers responded to a 911 caller's report that a man with a rifle was pointing the weapon at shoppers inside a Beavercreek Wal-Mart. Police later said that one of the officers shot 22-year-old John Crawford III after he failed to respond to calls to drop his weapon. Crawford III was later found to be carrying a pellet gun that he had picked up in the sporting goods section of the store.

Crawford III’s family says he was talking to the mother of his children on his cell phone and shopping for a cookout when shot. John Crawford Jr., the dead man’s father, told NBC News earlier this week that security footage from the store showed his son talking on the phone at the time of the shooting, and leaning on the pellet gun like it was a cane.

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Security camera footage released by officials Wednesday showed Crawford III talking on the phone and carrying the gun through the store, occasionally swinging it while walking and, at one point, resting it on his shoulder.

The Dayton Daily News published a version of the tapes on its website synchronized with the 911 call. It shows Crawford III in Pets and Live Fish aisle talking on his cell phone, as a 911 caller tells the dispatcher that a man in the Walmart has a gun and is waving it around and pointing it at people. As Crawford continues to talk on his phone, the officers can be seen entering the store, then a shot is heard on the 911 tape. Crawford III falls to the ground, dropping the pellet gun and moving around the corner of the pet aisle. He then gets back up and returns to the aisle, moving toward an advancing officer -- a moment when police said Crawford III appeared to be reaching for the dropped weapon. Crawford III then appears to be shot a second time. He falls back down and remains on the floor.

Image: John Crawford III, who was shot and killed by a police officer on the evening of Aug. 5
John Crawford III, who was shot and killed by a police officer on the evening of Aug. 5 after police say he refused to heed their commands to drop a weapon he was carrying in a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio.via WDTN

After the grand jury's decision Wednesday, the Crawford family released a statement saying it was "incomprehensible" that Officer Sean Williams, who fired at Crawford III, was not indicted.

"It makes absolutely no sense that an unarmed 22-year-old man would be killed doing what any American citizen does every day: shopping at a Walmart store," said the statement. "The Crawford family is extremely disappointed, disgusted and confused. They are heartbroken that justice was not done in the tragic death of their only son."

The Justice Department's Civil RIghts Division said in a statement Wednesday that it will now work with the the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for Southern Ohio on "an independent review of the facts and circumstances" surrounding Crawford III's death.

Gov. John Kasich and the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine both issued statements supporting the Justice Department's decision to launch an investigation.

“After talking with the Attorney General and watching the video myself, I agree with his decision that a review by the U.S. Department of Justice is appropriate," said Gov. Kasich. "This is a tragedy for the Crawford family and I share the concern of many in the community that this matter must be handled with the utmost seriousness and respect."

The Beavercreek City Attorney’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that while the shooting was “tragic,” the officers responded appropriately to the apparent threat.

“Based on the information the responding officers had and Mr. Crawford’s failure to comply with the responding officers orders, the officers did what they were trained to do to protect the public,” said the statement.

The 911 caller who reported a man with a gun in the store told the dispatcher that Crawford III was waving the gun around and that he had pointed it at children, according to tapes of the call. The pellet gun is designed to look like a real assault rifle.

Special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier told reporters that the grand jury heard testimony from 18 witnesses over two days before reaching its decision.

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