NEW: John Crawford III may have gotten the chance to live if he'd been white, attorney says
Walmart expresses condolences, won't discuss incident specifics
Crawford's family seeks $75,000 in compensatory damages
City and police say "evidence will prove officer's actions were legally justified"
The family of a man who picked up a BB gun for sale at an Ohio Walmart and was shot dead by police has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the corporation and police are responsible for his death.
John Crawford III was black, and his family’s lawyers Tuesday mentioned Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown as they announced the suit – evoking cases that have stirred international outrage because the three also were black and killed by police officers.
Grand juries chose not to indict officers in those cases, just as they decided not to indict police involved in Crawford’s death in Beavercreek.
The shooting happened August 5. Crawford was shopping at Walmart and picked up a BB gun that wasn’t packaged and had been sitting on the store shelf for two days, the Crawford family’s lawyers said Monday.
Attorney Michael Wright said his legal team filed a federal civil lawsuit against two police officers; Beavercreek’s police chief; the city of Beavercreek and its Police Department; and Walmart.
Wright told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” Tuesday that race might have played a role in the shooting.
“We believe that had Mr. Crawford been white, he may have gotten a little bit more time to respond to the police officers,” he said. “These officers came in, saw Mr. Crawford and shot him on sight. They didn’t give him the opportunity to live.”
Officer with place in local history
The two officers are Sgt. David M. Darkow and Officer Sean C. Williams, who is also “involved in the only other fatal police shooting in the history of the Beavercreek Police Department,” according to the lawsuit.
The officers and their attorneys couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.
Walmart spokesman Brian Nick expressed condolences to Crawford’s family and to relatives of a mother who fled the scene of the police shooting with her daughter, had a heart attack and later died.
The manner of death for shopper Angela Williams, 37, was ruled a homicide because she died while “fleeing and running” from the chaos inside the Walmart, Greene County Coroner’s Office chief investigator William Harden told CNN affiliate WHIO.
“Our condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones,” Walmart’s Nick said. “Out of respect for everyone involved, we believe it’s not appropriate to discuss the specifics of this matter, but we can say that our associates acted properly. We take the safety and security of our stores very seriously so that Walmart remains a safe shopping experience for our customers.”
In September, an Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the police officers.
But Beavercreek City Manager Michael Cornell and police Chief Dennis Evers have requested that the FBI review the case to determine whether there were civil rights violations.
The Justice Department is investigating the police shooting.
Despite that willingness for a federal investigation, the city of Beavercreek and its Police Department expressed confidence they will prevail in the latest litigation.
“We acknowledge the family’s right to bring this action and are confident the trial will be fair and impartial. We believe the evidence will prove that the officer’s actions were legally justified,” the city said in a statement.
Ohio’s open carry law
The lawsuit asserts Crawford was an innocent shopper whom police gunned down.
“Mr. Crawford never used, loaded or pointed the pellet rifle at anyone, was doing nothing improper or illegal, and never caused any harm or acted in a manner that would cause any reasonable person to believe that he may cause harm,” the suit said.
Williams and Darkow were responding to a 911 call about “a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” pointing it at people and “waving it back and forth,” according to a recording of the call.
The suit contends that the two officers “failed to take steps to assess whether any of the information provided by the 911 caller or dispatcher was accurate before Williams shot and killed Mr. Crawford, though they had an obligation to do so.”
Ohio concealed carry laws don’t regulate “open” care of firearms, so the open carry of firearms is “a legal activity in Ohio,” the state’s attorney general office says.
As such, the lawsuit contends, Crawford “was doing nothing wrong and in violation of no law or ordinance in the moments leading up to his death” and “was doing what people do in stores – shop.”
When the two officers located Crawford, “he was talking on a cell phone held in his right hand, with no other customers in his vicinity, and with his left side and back visible to the two police officers. Mr. Crawford was holding the Pellet Rifle in his left hand pointed down at the floor,” the suit contends.
Shot in a second
Williams shot and killed Crawford “approximately one second after Defendant Williams or Darkow first made contact with him,” the suit said. “As a result, Mr. Crawford was shot before he even had time to react to the officer’s presence, much less to comply with any verbal commands Defendants Williams or Darkow may have made.”
The Crawford family is seeking at least $75,000 in compensatory damages and an unstated amount for punitive damages, the suit said.
The family alleges, among other things, that the police officers did not use due diligence to determine that Wright wasn’t a threat; that the officers didn’t give him enough time to put down the weapon; and that Walmart was negligent because the air rifle had been resting on a shelf, unpackaged and unsecured, for at least two days, the family’s lawyers said Tuesday.
The suit also accuses the police chief of failing to properly train and supervise the two officers.
Crawford was the father of a baby son, Jayden, born last March, the suit said.
CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.