BEAVERCREEK — One year after an officer-involved shooting in Beavercreek left John Crawford III dead, the incident remains only somewhat resolved, like a door that has been only partially closed. The potential remains for that door to re-opened or closed completely – pending civil litigation and an open federal investigation related to the case keep it propped opened – but either possibility seems far off. And so for now the door remains as it has for months: partially open.
Two veteran police officers. A 22-year-old Cincinnati man. An ex-Marine. When each of the parties involved in the incident began their days on Aug. 5, 2014, none of them knew the chain of events, the “perfect storm of circumstances” as one official would call it, they would be drawn into and how it would change their lives.
It all happened at 3360 Pentagon Blvd.
When John Crawford III entered the Beavercreek Wal-Mart that evening with his girlfriend, he was reportedly there to pick up supplies to make s’mores. After entering the store, the man wandered around aimlessly while talking on his phone. When he walked into the sporting goods area of the store, he picked up a pellet gun that had been sitting on a shelf, likely thinking nothing of it.
As he continued wandering about the store, Crawford swung it back and forth, still on the phone. When he passed Ronald Ritchie, one of the store’s other patrons that evening, Ritchie became alarmed and called police, telling them about a man who was waving a rifle at store customers. Crawford continued his walk down the store aisle, unaware of the chain of events that had just been set in motion.
Meanwhile outside the store, Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams heard the dispatch about the man with the rifle. He happened to be right outside the store, finishing up some paperwork. After being joined by Sgt. David Darkow, Williams entered the store, both with weapons held at the ready.
Having been trained on active shooter situations about two weeks prior, the two hurriedly moved to find the man they believed to be armed and dangerous. Just a few aisles down, Crawford continued his conversation, still distractedly swinging the pellet gun back and forth.
As officers discovered Crawford’s location, they yelled for him to put the gun down just before Williams fired two shots at the man. Crawford fell to the ground. Not long after, he was transported to Miami Valley Hospital, where he died.
The whole incident transpired in less than 30 minutes. But the dominoes that tipped over after those moments would snake out into the following months and will likely stretch out into the next few years.
Weeks later, a grand jury convened in the Greene County Courthouse in Xenia to determine whether a criminal indictment would be returned in relation to the shooting. Outside the courthouse, Crawford supporters rallied, calling for justice. Two days later, the grand jury returned its findings.
“The grand jury deliberated,” began special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier the morning of Sept. 24, 2014. Piepmeier presented the evidence from the incident to the grand jury. “And they returned no indictment. They decided that the police officers and the police officer in particular that fired the shots was justified in doing what he did.”
Months later, Crawford’s family stood in a downtown-Dayton conference room announcing a federal, civil lawsuit against individuals in the Beavercreek Police Department, the City of Beavercreek and Wal-Mart.
“The criminal justice system has refused to hold the officers accountable, so the civil justice system must,” Michael Wright, one of the attorneys representing Crawford’s family, said at the time. “All we want is justice for John Crawford. Everyone responsible for John Crawford’s death should be held accountable. Filing this civil lawsuit, we want to bring change in the policies of the Beavercreek Police Department and the merchandising practices of the Wal-Mart corporation.”
Since then a trial date has been set for February 2017.
The days and months following Aug. 5, 2014, have been filled with protests and calls for justice, but more than any of that, have been filled with waiting. Waiting for investigations to be concluded, waiting for dates to be set, waiting for answers one way or another. The federal investigation into the incident remains ongoing, without any indication as to when it might conclude.
The door remains partially open.
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.