When Ronald Ritchie called 911 from the aisles of a Walmart in western Ohio last month to report that a black man was “walking around with a gun in the store”, he said that shoppers were coming under direct threat.
“He’s, like, pointing it at people,” Ritchie told the dispatcher. Later that evening, after John Crawford III had been shot dead by one of the police officers who hurried to the scene in Beavercreek, Ritchie repeated to reporters: “He was pointing at people. Children walking by.”
One month later, Ritchie puts it differently. “At no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody,” the 24-year-old said, in an interview with the Guardian. He maintained that Crawford was “waving it around”, which attorneys for Crawford’s family deny.
Crawford, 22, turned out to be holding an unloaded BB air rifle that he had picked up from a store shelf. After Ritchie said Crawford appeared to be “trying to load” the gun, the 911 dispatcher relayed to an officer that it was believed the gunman “just put some bullets inside”
They have pleaded with Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, to release the store’s surveillance footage of the shooting to the public. Having viewed it, they say that it disproves Ritchie’s version of what led to the deaths of both Crawford and a 37-year-old woman who collapsed and died in the ensuing panic.
DeWine has said that releasing the footage would be “playing with dynamite” and prevent any trial from being fair. He has assigned a special prosecutor from the neighbouring Hamilton County to handle the case. A grand jury will begin hearing evidence on it later this month. A Beavercreek police spokesman said in a statement: “Preliminary indications are that the officers acted appropriately under the circumstances.”