Federal lawsuit filed by the family of John Crawford III

Surprised: The video shows John Crawford III, 22, turn towards officers a split second before he falls to the floor. Caption and photo courtesy of UK Daily Mail Online

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.

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15 thoughts on “Federal lawsuit filed by the family of John Crawford III

  1. These kind of things are sort of perplexing to me. From what I know of the shooting, I don’t think it had to happen but the officers responding may have been acting on bad info. Doesn’t change what happened but I’m no lawyer and don’t really know what you’d do in a situation like that.

    One thing I’m not comfortable with is the “multiple” cases things sometimes turn into. In some cases, you have a state criminal trial, a civil suit, and maybe a federal suit, all over the same event. To me, that smacks of double jeopardy. To give an example, I thought O J SImpson was as guilty as the day was long but once he was acquitted, that should’ve been the end of it, in my opinion. Justice isn’t always served but that’s the system we have.

    Seems in some cases (and not saying the one here) people just keep hunting until they get the verdict they want or they bankrupt the person they’re after. Surely there’s a better way.

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    • These things are confusing indeed. Based on what I know of the legal system and how it’s applied in cases like this, I don’t think the officer can be held liable for his actions. The officer is acting on information coming from the 911 dispatcher, and he’s responding to the conditions that he expects based on that information.

      Could it have been handled differently? I can answer yes in hindsight. However, at the time of the incident, I can’t say whether the officer felt he had any other course of action.

      As far as the different cases, I get that same feeling at times that people are just looking for a specific outcome. In this particular case, I think the 911 caller is responsible for what happened. The police were responding based on his reporting. The only reason I can see the police being held responsible is for the response in an open carry state. Crawford was alone on that aisle and not threatening anyone at the time the officer arrived. A few seconds of observation could have potentially saved a life there, but it’s easy to say that after the fact.

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      • Those are excellent points. It’s easy for us to sit here and talk about it but we aren’t caught up in the moment, when things happen at hyper speed, sometimes. Most any human being is going to err on the side of self-preservation, at a time like that. Survival is the strongest human instinct (at least in my opinion) and it’ll overrule everything else, when a person feels threatened.

        When I was coming up, we were always told there is nobody anymore dangerous than somebody who is afraid of you, and I think that’s something people often overlook.

        I think the overall trend of what’s been going on is alarming but still, you have to look at each one on a case by case basis.

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        • I am guilty of using hindsight to form my personal perspectives, but I try to keep an open mind in regards to how things happen at full speed in the moment.

          It’s cases like these that give me pause as to open carry. I don’t oppose it, but I think it opens up a can of worms for law enforcement. That feeling of self preservation is very powerful, and it affects decisions that we make, especially in stressful situations.

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          • You know it just now struck me but the fact it was a “long gun” might have made this situation worse. If it had been a holstered pistol, things might have gone differently. I’ve been around guns all my life and open carry doesn’t really bother me but if I see a person with a long gun, I’m gonna take a second look. If I see somebody with a holstered pistol, I think nothing of it. Of course if they have the pistol out of the holster, that’s another story entirely.

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          • True. I’ve been trying to figure out where Walmart security was during the whole thing. They can catch someone stealing a double a battery, but they were nowhere the entire time Crawford was walking through the store.

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    • Yes, they are indeed.

      That said, I like seeing people actively looking to learn more about the law and application in these situations. Active engagement leads to better understanding of everything involved for those who are interested. I hope that everyone listens and learn from them as to keep them from happening again.

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  2. I’m sorry y’all. I just don’t get this whole gun culture. Law enforcement officers need guns; nobody else does. Okay, except for sport & hunting…. But nobody needs to walk around with guns, long or short, in stores, bars, churches, or anywhere else. Even in the “Wild West,” some towns restricted guns. I started to ask what happened, but I do know. The NRA, tools of the gun/ammunition manufactures, happened and brainwashed too many of us. Okay, off soapbox for now. 🙂

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    • It’s one thing in the city, but it’s entirely different in the rural areas. You have people who use guns just as a farmer uses a plow. It’s a tool to provide food for the family. You have those who like to target shoot and such. Then, there’s the personal protection crowd. So, there’s numerous different reasons for the existence of the gun culture.

      I’ve never really been one for open carry, but I wouldn’t blink at the sight of a pickup truck with a full gun rack in the rear window. It was so commonplace to see growing up that it looks kinda funny to see trucks without a gun rack.

      I’ve never been really interested in the NRA. I really didn’t think much or pay any attention to them growing up. Our local Jaycees did gun safety clinics and stuff. The NRA may have been co-sponsors, but I don’t recall ever seeing their name anywhere.

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  3. Pingback: Gun Deaths of Officers Jump 56 Percent | pundit from another planet

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