Police aggressively questioned the tearful girlfriend of a young black man they had just shot dead as he held a BB gun in an Ohio supermarket – accusing her of lying, threatening her with jail, and suggesting her boyfriend had planned to shoot the mother of his children.
Tasha Thomas was reduced to swearing on the lives of her relatives that John Crawford III had not been carrying a firearm when they entered the Walmart in Beavercreek, near Dayton, to buy crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars on the evening of 5 August.
“You lie to me and you might be on your way to jail,” detective Rodney Curd told Thomas, as she wept and repeatedly offered to take a lie-detector test. After more than an hour and a half of questioning and statement-taking, Curd finally told Thomas that Crawford, 22, had died.
“As a result of his actions, he is gone,” said the detective, as she slumped in her chair and cried.
Crawford had been shot by police officer Sean Williams , after a customer called 911 and claimed the 22-year-old was pointing a gun at passersby. Surveillance footage released later showed Crawford picking up the BB rifle from a shelf, wandering the aisles and occasionally swinging the gun at his side while he spoke on his cellphone to his ex-girlfriend.
A 94-minute police video recording, released to the Guardian by the office of Mike DeWine, the Ohio attorney general, in response to a public records request, shows Thomas, 26, being interviewed by Curd after she was driven from Walmart to the Beavercreek police department. Curd later told investigators he had not yet been told Crawford only had a BB gun that had been on sale at the store.
Curd promptly asked Thomas whether she and Crawford had criminal records. Already tearful and breathless, Thomas explained that she may have had some traffic offences and had been arrested for petty theft as a juvenile.
The detective then became increasingly aggressive and banged on the table between them with his hand. “Tell me where he got the gun from,” Curd repeated. Thomas insisted Crawford had been carrying only a white plastic grocery bag when they arrived at Walmart to buy the ingredients to make s’mores at a family cook-out.
Asked one of several times whether Crawford owned a gun, Thomas said: “Not that I know.”
Curd told her: “Don’t tell me ‘not that you know’, because that’s the first thing I realise somebody’s not telling me the truth”.
He later repeated: “You need to tell me the truth” and “You need to be truthful.”
Crawford was talking on his cellphone to LeeCee Johnson, the mother of his two sons, when he was shot by Williams. Curd repeatedly suggested to Thomas that Johnson, who was in fact at home in Cincinnati, may also have been in the Walmart store and that Crawford was there to attack her.
“Did he ever mention ‘I’m going to shoot that bitch’ or something like that?” the detective asked Thomas, who insisted that Crawford had not. Johnson, whom Thomas had never met, was miles away and listened over the phone while Crawford died.
At several points during the interview Thomas swore to God, and on the lives of her three children, the grave of her late brother and “on everything I have” that she was telling the truth, but Curd remained dismissive.
Curd also pushed Thomas on whether she was intoxicated, asking her: “Have you been drinking? Drugs? Your eyes are kind of messed-up looking”. After she told him that Crawford had smelled of marijuana, Curd took down notes. He went on to ask whether Crawford had been suicidal.
The detective, a 26-year veteran of Beavercreek, was interviewed about his involvement in the case three days later, by two special agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which had taken over the inquiry. Curd explained to the agents that he “believed the deceased had brought a weapon into the Walmart and geared the interview with that assumption”.
“Curd stated that he became aggressive during the interview with Thomas because of his (Curd) disbelief that if Mr Crawford brought a gun inside Walmart, Ms Thomas didn’t see the gun,” the agents noted in their report, which was released by the Ohio attorney general’s office in September.
After the case was handed to a special prosecutor, a grand jury decided in September that Williams and another officer involved should not face criminal charges. Williams was in 2010 responsible for the only other fatal police shooting in Beavercreek’s recent history.
Watch portions of the interview posted online by the Guardian: