Some questions have emerged about the witness account that led to the fatal shooting of a man carrying a toy gun inside a Walmart store in Ohio.
Ronald Ritchie, another shopper, called 911 from the Beavercreek retailer Aug. 5 to report a black man “walking around with a gun in the store” – placing other customers under direct threat.
In a recording of the call made to dispatchers, Ritchie claimed the man was pointing the toy gun – which he believed was an AR-15 rifle – at other shoppers, and he repeated those claims to news media after police gunned down 22-year-old John Crawford III.
“He was pointing at people – children walking by,” Ritchie claimed to reporters.
But the 24-year-old — who was the only shopper who called 911 — offered another account last week in an interview with the Guardian.
“At no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody,” he said, although he continued to insist Crawford was “waving it around.”
An attorney for Crawford’s family strongly denies that claim, saying surveillance video recorded prior to the shooting directly contradicts the accounts offered by police and Ritchie.
Attorney Michael Wright, who watched a five-minute excerpt of the video with Crawford’s father, has urged Ohio’s attorney general to publicly release the video and other evidence.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has so far refused, saying it would be “playing with dynamite” to do so prior to a grand jury hearing scheduled for Sept. 22.
However, Ritchie claims he was shown the video by officials in the attorney general’s bureau of criminal investigation – and Wright said he intends to file a complaint with DeWine.
“That is very improper,” Wright said, arguing that Ritchie’s statement should be based only on his own recollections.
“(DeWine) said he was concerned that the release of the video would adversely color the perception of the witnesses, thereby making their testimony less accurate,” Wright said.
A spokesman for DeWine declined to confirm whether Ritchie had seen the video, and he declined to comment whether the attorney general told Wright the video could negatively impact witness accuracy.
Ritchie also said he has learned of past criminal allegations against Crawford – which were later dropped – but he refused to tell the Guardian whether he learned about them from the attorney general’s office.
A spokesman for DeWine also declined to say whether officials in the attorney general’s office had told the witness about Crawford’s court record.
Wright said the video showed Crawford walking around the store with the unpackaged BB/pellet rifle he picked up in the toy department and carried as he spoke on a cell phone with the mother of his two children.
His father and Wright said the video showed Crawford carrying the BB gun in his left hand, pointed at the floor, except when he momentarily swung the rifle to his shoulder.
They said other shoppers showed no concern as they walked past Crawford, although Ritchie said he and his wife were alarmed when the muzzle pointed in their direction.
“Even still, it’s a gun in Walmart, in a public place, inducing panic,” Ritchie said.
Crawford’s family said Ohio’s “open carry” law would have permitted him to carry a full-power firearm through the store – as some gun-rights activists have done at Walmart and other retailers without incident.
His father said the video showed Crawford stop at 8:20 p.m. in the pet products aisle, about 60 yards from where he picked up the toy gun, and stand completely still for about six minutes – until officers arrived.
“He didn’t move,” said his father, John Crawford II. “He was stood so still, in fact, we thought the track had actually stopped. I asked the technician ‘what’s going on?’ and he said ‘Well, the reel is still running, Mr. Crawford, look at the time.’”
Ritchie maintains that Crawford was using the barrel of the BB rifle to move items around on the shelf until police arrived at 8:26 p.m. – five minutes after Ritchie called 911.
Officers shot him in a matter of seconds and then pounced on him, the Guardian reported.
He later died at an area hospital.
“It was an execution, no doubt about it,” his father said. “It was flat-out murder — and when you see the footage, it will illustrate that.”
Police and Ritchie claim an officer to Crawford’s left twice ordered him to put down the weapon, and police said one of the two officers shot him after he failed to comply with their orders.
Ritchie said Crawford turned toward the officer after hearing the order, then tried to run to his right, causing the muzzle to swing toward the officer.
“Then he got back up and tried to either go for the rifle or go for one of the officers,” Ritchie said. “But the officer had him on the ground before he got to either target.”
But Wright and Crawford’s father said Crawford was already turned away from the officer and did not appear to hear the police orders.
“Based on the video that we saw, it did not even appear that he knew they were there,” Wright said. “He doesn’t look at the officers, he doesn’t turn his body towards the officers. It’s as if he was just shot on sight by the officers.”
The mother of Crawford’s children, who was speaking to him on the phone at the time, said she heard him tell police the gun was not real, and she heard officers tell him to get on the ground.
But he already was on the ground, she said, because had already been shot.
Wright said the video does not show Crawford attempting to flee or reach for his weapon – which he knew was an unloaded toy gun.
He said the deputy coroner for Montgomery County, Dr. Robert Shott, told him Crawford was shot in the back of the left arm, above the elbow, and to the left of his belly button.
Another shopper, 37-year-old Angela Williams, suffered a heart condition after the shooting and died.
She had been shopping in the same aisle just moments before Crawford was shot, and Wright said the woman and her daughter showed no concern about the toy weapon.
Ritchie suffers his own heart condition — which got him expelled from the Marine Corps after seven weeks.
He had described himself to reporters shortly after the shooting as an “ex-Marine,” but he admitted to the Guardian that he was thrown out in 2008 after being declared a “fraudulent enlistment.”
Ritchie argued the discharge occurred because a recruiter failed to turn in paperwork that disclosed his condition.
Both officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave, although Sgt. David Darkow has already returned to work.
The other, Officer Sean Williams, was behind the only other fatal police shooting in Beavercreek.
He shot and killed a retired Air Force sergeant, Scott Brogli, during a 2010 domestic violence call.
Brogli allegedly charged police with a knife after a drunken beating of his wife.
A grand jury declined to bring charges in that case.
Watch an interview with Ritchie posted online by WHIO-TV: