AKRON, Ohio — An Ohio grand jury declined to indict eight police officers who fired dozens of rounds in the shooting death last year of Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, the state’s attorney general announced Monday, saying the officers were under threat because Walker had fired a gunshot at them during a car and foot chase.
Walker’s death last June sparked protests in Akron after police released body camera footage showing him dying in a hail of gunfire. Police said he had refused to stop when they tried to pull him over for minor equipment and traffic violations, though they haven’t specified further. Police say Walker fired a shot from his car 40 seconds into the pursuit.
Walker’s death received widespread attention from activists, including from the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The NAACP and an attorney for Walker’s family called on the Justice Department to open a federal civil rights investigation.
President Joe Biden responded to the shooting during a trip to Ohio last summer by saying the DOJ was monitoring the case.
Officers chased the car on a freeway and city streets until Walker bailed from the still-moving vehicle, ignored officers’ commands and ran into a parking lot where he was killed while wearing a ski mask, body cam video showed. Authorities said he represented a “deadly threat.” A handgun, a loaded magazine and a wedding ring were found on the driver’s seat of his car.
Walker took at least one shot from his vehicle at police and then after jumping out of his car he ignored commands to stop and show his hands, Yost said. “There is no doubt he did in fact shoot at police officers,” Yost said.
Walker reached for his waistband as officers were chasing and raised his hand, Yost said. The officers, not knowing he left his gun in the car, believed he was firing again at them, Yost said.
Yost said it is critical to remember that Walker had fired at police, and that he “shot first.”
Dash-cam video from a police cruiser captured images of Walker firing the gun from his car, said Anthony Pierson, an assistant state attorney general. Walker had no criminal history and had never fired a gun until he went to a shooting range with a friend in early June, Pierson said.
Pierson wouldn’t speculate about Walker’s state of mind that night and said there was no direct evidence that he was suicidal. “That night he encountered the police he wasn’t acting himself,” Pierson said. “By all accounts he was a good person, a good man.”
Walker’s family called it a brutal and senseless shooting of a man who was unarmed at the time and whose fiancee recently died. Police union officials said the officers thought there was an immediate threat of serious harm and that their actions were in line with their training and protocols.
Walker had been grieving his fiancée’s recent death but his family had no indication of concern beyond that, a family representative previously said.
The blurry body camera footage did not clearly show what authorities say was a threatening gesture Walker made before he was shot. Police chased him for about 10 seconds before officers fired from multiple directions, a burst of shots that lasts 6 or 7 seconds.
The eight officers, whose names have been withheld from the public, initially were placed on leave, but they returned to administrative duties 3 1/2 months after the shooting.
A county medical examiner said Walker was shot at least 40 times. The autopsy also said no illegal drugs or alcohol were detected in his body.
After taking over the investigation last summer at the request of Akron police, prosecutors with the Ohio attorney general’s office presented the case to the grand jury.
City leaders have been meeting with community leaders, church groups, activists and business owners ahead of the grand jury meeting while also preparing for potential protests.
The city created a designated protest zone downtown outside the city hall building, where workers put plywood over the first-floor windows. There’s also temporary fencing around the county courthouse.
Less than 24 hours before the chase, police in neighboring New Franklin Township had tried to stop a car matching Walker’s, also for unspecified minor equipment violations. A supervisor there called off the pursuit when the car crossed the township’s border with Akron.