From The Grio:
CINCINNATI (AP) — The family of a black man fatally shot by a white police officer as he held an air rifle inside a Wal-Mart filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday charging negligence and violation of the man’s civil rights.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court against the Ohio city of Beavercreek, the two Beavercreek officers involved, the police chief and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
John Crawford III was shot Aug. 5 inside the store. Police responded after someone called the 911 emergency dispatch number and reported Crawford was waving what appeared to be a firearm.
A grand jury concluded the shooting was justified.
Under most circumstances, a lawsuit charging a violation of civil rights has a very high hurdle to jump, and these cases are quite hard to win. There has to be pretty much overwhelming evidence of the deprivation of rights in order for the lawsuit to be successful. Depending on how the lawyers try this case, I think they have a better chance at success over most of the other debated police shootings that have been dominating the media lately.
The reason why I think this case has a better than normal chance of success is based on Ohio law and two particular amendments to the US Constitution. According to Ohio law, open carry is legal. There is no exact statute that legalizes open carry, but within the Ohio Revised Code, it is permitted under ORC 9.68, which reads in part:
(A) The individual right to keep and bear arms, being a fundamental individual right that predates the United States Constitution and Ohio Constitution, and being a constitutionally protected right in every part of Ohio, the general assembly finds the need to provide uniform laws throughout the state regulating the ownership, possession, purchase, other acquisition, transport, storage, carrying, sale, or other transfer of firearms, their components, and their ammunition. Except as specifically provided by the United States Constitution, Ohio Constitution, state law, or federal law, a person, without further license, permission, restriction, delay, or process, may own, possess, purchase, sell, transfer, transport, store, or keep any firearm, part of a firearm, its components, and its ammunition.
(B) In addition to any other relief provided, the court shall award costs and reasonable attorney fees to any person, group, or entity that prevails in a challenge to an ordinance, rule, or regulation as being in conflict with this section.
(C) As used in this section:
(1) The possession, transporting, or carrying of firearms, their components, or their ammunition include, but are not limited to, the possession, transporting, or carrying, openly or concealed on a person’s person or concealed ready at hand, of firearms, their components, or their ammunition.
From my perspective, the family has a good chance at proving that Crawford’s 2nd and 4th Amendment rights were violated. Based on the OCR, his 2nd Amendment rights were violated because he was well within Ohio law by openly carrying a gun. I have not seen anything that shows Wal-Mart has explicitly posted no gun signs or have any rules preventing open carry within their stores. As a matter of fact, some open carry people staged a rally after his death inside the very store where he was killed.
As for the violation of his 4th Amendment rights, it revolves around the unreasonable seizure and right to be seized without probable cause. Legally, the shooting of Crawford constitutes a seizure. The government has to prove that the action of shooting, or seizing, of Crawford outweighs his rights to not be shot or seized. There has to be probable cause to detain Crawford at that moment, and one thing in the favor of the government is the urgency of the 911 call claiming that he was pointing the gun and threatening people. Something that could likely be held against the government is the lack of panicked people, screaming, or even gunfire as the officers approached the area where Crawford was standing. The latter is why I think the family has a decent shot of proving violation of the 4th.
This will not be an easy case to prove as violation of civil rights is never an easy task. It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback this incident and point out things that went wrong. The officer’s actions, however, won’t be subject to MMQ critique. The officer’s actions have to be reasonable and justified from an officer’s perspective in order for them to be considered ok. It will be interesting to see how this case progresses. I imagine the family of Tamir Rice will be paying attention as well as his case would basically fall along the same lines.