The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio announced today that they have completed a thorough, independent investigation into the fatal shooting of John Crawford III on August 5, 2014, by Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams at the Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio. This investigation revealed that the evidence is insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Williams violated federal civil rights laws. Accordingly, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio will not pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against Officer Williams.
Justice Department officials have notified Mr. Crawford’s family of this decision.
The investigation was conducted by career investigators and prosecutors, and included a review of voluminous materials, including the investigative reports generated by the Beavercreek Police Department and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation; forensic evidence reports; the autopsy report; photographs of the crime scene; toxicology reports; and EMS reports. Federal officials collected and carefully analyzed all available footage from Wal-Mart’s in-store video surveillance system using resources at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va. Prosecutors also obtained assistance from an independent crime scene reconstruction expert to aid in understanding the exact perspectives held by the officers who confronted Mr. Crawford. In addition, the FBI conducted its own interviews of relevant witnesses, including interviews with personnel at the Beavercreek Police Department who were responsible for training Officer Williams.
In conducting the review, federal authorities were tasked with determining whether Officer Williams violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Mr. Crawford. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors would be required to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived Mr. Crawford of a constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities would be required to show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence, necessity, or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
Based on a legal analysis of the investigative materials, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish that Officer Williams acted with the requisite criminal intent necessary to pursue a federal prosecution. To establish that Officer Williams acted willfully, the government would be required both to disprove his stated reason for the shooting – that he was in fear of death or serious bodily injury – and to affirmatively establish that Officer Williams instead acted with the specific intent to violate Mr. Crawford’s rights. The evidence here simply cannot satisfy those burdens. Accordingly, the review into this incident has been closed without prosecution.
The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the FBI are committed to investigating allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. The department will aggressively prosecute criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so.