Ohio’s attorney general is fighting the release of surveillance video recorded during the fatal police shooting of a 21-year-old black man last month at a Walmart store.
Beavercreek police officers said they shot John Crawford III on Aug. 5 after he waved what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle at other customers and refused to drop the weapon – which turned out to be an unpackaged BB/pellet rifle sold in store’s toy department.
An attorney for Crawford’s family said surveillance video proved police claims were “absolutely incorrect,” arguing the surveillance video showed the victim talking on a cell phone as he leaned on the toy rifle like a cane when officers “shot him on sight.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine allowed Crawford’s father and attorney Michael Wright to view about 5 minutes from the video after an Aug. 18 protest outside his Columbus office, but he has so far refused to release it publicly.
“Trust the system,” DeWine said. “There will be ample time later for people to criticize what is done, and I’m fully aware of that, but let the judicial process work.”
Multiple media outlets have requested the video or an excerpt, arguing the evidence is a public record and any limitations on its release were voided when it was viewed by Crawford’s father and the attorney.
Ohio law requires public officials to respond to records request within a reasonable time, but the attorney general’s office has not yet set a deadline to respond.
DeWine has defended his decision not to release the video or other evidence requested by Crawford’s family and the media, saying he does not want to taint the grand 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.”
He appointed a special prosecutor, Hamilton County assistant prosecutor Mark Piepmeier, to present the case Sept. 22 to a grand jury, although Crawford’s family has asked for the case to be turned over to the Department of Justice.
The liberal Plunderbund blog questioned the independence of the special prosecutor’s investigation, noting that DeWine’s daughter, Alice DeWine, advises Beavercreek police as part of her job as an assistant prosecutor in the Greene County prosecutor’s office.
Authorities in Greene County turned over the case to the attorney general to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Piepmeier has contributed to the campaign of DeWine as recently as July 31, the blog reported, and the special prosecutor had previously donated to the campaign of the attorney general’s son Pat, a judge in Ohio’s 1st District Court of Appeals.
DeWine’s office has so far handled all media inquiries in relation to the case, and he planned to respond to a southwestern Ohio state representative who asked him to release evidence from the shooting.
Investigators are examining more than 200 photos from the shooting scene and have interviewed more than 75 witnesses, DeWine said, and they also had 911 call recordings and video footage from more than 200 cameras inside the suburban Dayton store.
The Bureau of Criminal Investigations re-enacted the shooting early Wednesday at the store, which was closed overnight.