CINCINNATI (AP) — An attorney for the family of a man fatally shot by police while holding an air rifle inside a Wal-Mart called on the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation and assess whether the shooting was justified and whether race played a factor.
The attorney, Michael Wright, and the family of 21-year-old John Crawford III criticized Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's handling of the case and his announcement Tuesday that a veteran Ohio prosecutor is leading the investigation and would present evidence to a special grand jury on Sept. 22.
"We need Mike DeWine to refer this case to the Department of Justice, not to a special prosecutor," Wright said.
Crawford, who was black, was fatally shot on Aug. 5 at a Wal-Mart in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek. The two officers involved are white.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DeWine said Tuesday that the Justice Department typically decides whether to get involved after the state's case is finished.
"This is not unusual. This is what normally happens," DeWine said. "We're moving ahead and we'll keep them informed."
Beavercreek police have said the shooting was justified because Crawford was waving the air rifle at customers and refused their commands to drop it. One of the officers involved has since returned to duty.
Wright said that Crawford was innocently holding an air rifle that was for sale in the store while talking on the phone, "doing nothing more or less than shopping."
Wright said that Wal-Mart surveillance footage that DeWine showed to him and Crawford's father proved that the shooting wasn't justified.
The family renewed their request Tuesday for the release of the surveillance video to the public, saying the investigation is moving too slowly.
"My main concern is: What's the delay? What's taking so long?" Crawford's father, John Crawford Jr. said. "Frankly, I see stall tactics."
Another family attorney, Richard Schulte, said: "Justice delayed is justice denied."
"The public has the right to know what happened in that Wal-Mart so they can judge these officers' conduct," he said. "At what point is this a cover-up?"
DeWine declined to release store surveillance video of the shooting to the public, saying that could compromise the investigation.
"To put the video out on TV and let it be played, I think is not the right thing to do," DeWine said. "It's one of the chief pieces of evidence in this case. To put that out I think would be irresponsible and something people would regret later on."
He declined to address the family's description of what the surveillance video shows except to say "there's a fundamental difference between people commenting on what they've seen and people seeing it."
DeWine had previously said a grand jury would look at the case on Sept. 3, but said Tuesday that the special prosecutor wasn't available until Sept. 22.
The special prosecutor appointed to the case is longtime Hamilton County prosecutor Mark Piepmeier, who has handled some of Ohio's biggest cases, including a deadly 1993 prison riot and many involving excessive police force.
DeWine lauded him as fair, impartial and highly competent. "He calls it like he sees it," DeWine said.
Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell contributed to this report.
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