CINCINNATI -- A federal appeals court has revived a wrongful death claim against Walmart by the family of a Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer inside an Ohio store after picking up a pellet rifle from a shelf.
Twenty-two-year-old John Crawford III was shot at the Beavercreek store in suburban Dayton in August 2014 after someone called 911. A judge dismissed his family's wrongful death claim, but a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that in a 2-1 decision Wednesday.
Two judges concluded “a reasonable jury could find that Walmart failed to prevent Crawford from carrying a look-alike AR-15 openly around the store,” which could alarm shoppers, confuse police and cause an officer to respond as though the weapon were real.
The decision means the family can move forward toward trial on the wrongful death claim along with its other pending claims against the retailer, including negligence, said one of the family's attorneys, Michael Wright.
“We’re happy that the court came to this decision," Wright said Friday. “Now we can proceed.”
Walmart has denied that its actions caused Crawford’s death.
“We take the safety and security of our customers seriously and continue to sympathize with family of John Crawford," company spokesperson Randy Hargrove said Friday. "We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling, and we will continue defending the company.”
The family previously settled a wrongful death claim with Beavercreek and its police.
A grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Crawford.
The 911 caller who reported that a man was waving a gun in the store also wasn't charged. The prosecutor who made that decision said he didn't find evidence that the caller knew the information he provided was false.