BEAVERCREEK, Ohio — In a lawsuit over the 2014 shooting by police of a Beavercreek Walmart customer, attorneys for Walmart plan to claim that another customer who called 911 was the cause of the incident and the store should not be held responsible.
Walmart attorneys have filed motions in a wrongful death lawsuit stating that Ronald Ritchie, the man who first called 911 from the Beavercreek Walmart stating there was a suspicious man with a gun in the store, was the "legal and proximate cause" of John Crawford III's shooting death by a Beavercreek police officer on Aug. 5, 2014.
“Ronald Ritchie’s lies are the sole reasons why police came into the (Beavercreek Walmart) store with their guns drawn,” Walmart attorneys wrote. “Ronald Ritchie intentionally lied to the police. Ronald Ritchie was not a good Samaritan who was mistaken.”
Crawford, 22, of Fairfield, was shot to death Aug. 5, 2014, by Beavercreek police Officer Sean Williams after Ritchie told dispatchers a black man was holding a rifle, appeared to be loading it and waving it near people, including children. Crawford was holding a Crosman MK-177 BB/pellet rifle he found unpackaged on a store shelf.
Crawford’s parents have sued Walmart, Beavercreek and its police officers in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.
The trial is scheduled for Oct. 28. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is considering an appeal by Beavercreek arguing that its officers should be protected from the family's lawsuit because of qualified immunity.
Crawford family attorney Michael Wright said the family believes responsibility for the shooting remains with the store, Walmart, and the city of Beavercreek.
“Ritchie would not have called 911 had the BB gun been secure in the box,” Wright said Tuesday. “So, Walmart’s ultimately responsible for this event.”
Walmart attorneys wrote that there was nothing ambiguous about Ritchie’s conduct. They wrote Ritchie saw Crawford walking around with the MK-177 in one hand, talking on his cellphone “and nothing else.”
Ritchie never saw Crawford “load” anything with live rounds or “muzzle check” women and children, Walmart attorneys wrote.
“At worst, Ronald Ritchie could have believed he saw Mr. Crawford legally open carry a firearm,” Walmart contends. “Nevertheless, Ronald Ritchie made the conscious decision to call 911 and falsely report an act of violence and hostility towards some of the most vulnerable in our society, mothers and their children, with the clear knowledge that this alleged threat of violence would be met with armed resistance leading to the detention and/or death of Mr. Crawford.”
The attorneys contend the “blatant lies” and “intentional fabrication” led Beavercreek police to say the reason they came into the store was they believed an “active shooter” was present and that officers didn’t talk to any Walmart employee.
“Ronald Ritchie’s lies are the sole reasons why police only gave Mr. Crawford seconds to put down the air rifle before shooting him,” attorneys wrote. “In fact, the police officers admitted that the false statements were the reason for shooting and killing Mr. Crawford.”
Walmart intends to reference surveillance video, Ritchie’s 911 call, his interview with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ritchie’s deposition and media interviews and other evidence.
Beavercreek’s attorneys wrote in a recent motion that they do not intend to defend their actions by trying to blame Ritchie or anyone else.
“However, (Walmart) plans to do so,” Beavercreek attorneys wrote. “The jury is likely to be confused as to why one defendant is pointing at Ritchie while the other one is not. The potential for jury speculation and confusion as to this question is limitless.”
Ritchie was not originally considered for any criminal charges by a Greene County special grand jury.
A citizen-led effort to bring charges against Ritchie in Fairborn Municipal Court ended when special prosecuting attorney Mark Piepmeier said there was no reason to believe that Ritchie knowingly made a false report.
Piepmeier oversaw the special grand jury proceedings that resulted in Williams not facing any criminal charges. Neither Williams nor Sgt. David Darkow, who also responded to the Beavercreek Walmart, faced any federal civil rights violations after the U.S. Dept. of Justice said it did not have enough evidence.
Attempts to reach Ritchie for comment Wednesday were not successful.
In a deposition he gave in 2016, Ritchie said he regrets the loss of life, but that he didn’t feel responsible or regret his actions.
“I have actually been asked this question before in grand jury,” Ritchie said in a deposition taken in St. Petersburg, Florida. “And I said then that if something like this was to happen again, I’d probably do the same thing.”
Cox Media Group