An Ohio grand jury voted against indicting eight Akron police officers who fatally shot an unarmed Black man last year, the state attorney general said on Monday, as the city prepared for a fresh round of protests against alleged police misconduct.
The officers pursued Jayland Walker, 25, on foot after an attempted traffic stop last June and shot him 46 times, including five times in the back.
Police opened fire after mistakenly thinking Walker reached into his waistband for a gun, did a “cross draw motion,” planted his foot and turned toward the officers while raising his hand, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said during a briefing to announce the grand jury’s decision.
“Only then did the officers fire, believing Mr. Walker was firing again at them,” said Yost, whose office was asked by local prosecutors to investigate the shooting.
Earlier, while driving his car with officers in pursuit, Walker had fired at least one shot at them, but he left the gun in the car when he fled on foot, Yost said.
State law allows officers to use deadly force against a deadly threat to themselves or others, he said.
“The grand jury concluded that the officers were legally justified in their use of force,” he told a news conference.
The Walker family’s legal team derided the decision and said they would file a civil lawsuit against the city in June.
Paige White, one of the lawyers, claimed prosecutors presented a case that was in favor of the officers.
“What we saw happen this week in the grand jury was a miscarriage of justice,” she said. “Jayland did not have a chance.”
U.S. Representative Emilia Sykes from Ohio said she will formally request the Justice Department probe the patterns and practices of the Akron Police Department.
“We’ve seen it too many times. A routine traffic stop ends in death,” she said in a statement.
The panel of three men and six women, including two Black people, reached its decision after hearing that Walker had shot at officers at least once, and that officers had first used non-lethal Tasers in an attempt to stop him, Yost added.
Walker had neither alcohol nor drugs in his system at the time of his death.
The shooting follows a spate of law enforcement killings of Black people in the U.S. that have triggered protests against racial injustice and police brutality, including the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Akron officials were preparing for the possibility that the grand jury’s decision would lead to more protests.
In June, Walker’s death sparked mostly peaceful daytime protests, although some demonstrators broke storefront windows and damaged property in central Akron, prompting police to disperse the crowd with tear gas.
Calling for peaceful protests, Mayor Dan Horrigan on Monday said the police department would internally investigate the incident and its policies. The review will be publicized at a later date.
The officers involved will remain on administrative duty as the department reviews if they violated internal policies, Police Chief Steve Mylett said.
Barriers have been set up in downtown Akron outside of City Hall and the police department in anticipation of protests, he said.
Akron Public Schools closed all schools on Tuesday to “ensure the safety of our scholars and staff” in light of the grand jury’s decision.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters