Dayton-Area Walmart Shooting: Was An Innocent Man SWATted to Death?

John Crawford III was shot and killed while holding an airsoft rifle while on the phone in a Dayton, Ohio Walmart.
John Crawford III was shot and killed while holding an airsoft rifle while on the phone in a Dayton, Ohio Walmart.
John Crawford III was shot and killed by police in a Dayton, Ohio, Wal-Mart.

These facts we know to be true:

  • John Crawford III was shot and killed Tuesday night by Beavercreek, Ohio police officers in a Walmart.
  • Crawford was holding either an airsoft (6mm plastic projectile) or BB/pellet (4.5mm/.177-caliber metal projectile) rifle sold by Walmart that he picked up in the store.
  • Crawford was on the phone when he was shot.
  • Crawford did not have a criminal record.

From there, the tale of what happened next diverges significantly depending upon the perspective of who is telling the story.

LeeCee Johnson, who claims that she is the mother of Crawford’s children, says that Mr. Crawford was on the phone with her when he was shot.  What she heard suggests that he was gunned down with little warning.

LeeCee Johnson, who said she is the mother of Crawford’s children, said she was on a cell phone call with Crawford when he was shot by officers. She said Crawford went to the area to visit family members.

“We was just talking. He said he was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him,” she said, adding: “And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.”

According to Ms. Johnson’s point-of-view as the person on the other end of the phone, it sounded to her as if Crawford was unaware that others may have considered him a threat. She claims that she heard him address someone and say “it’s not real,” at which point he was shot and then someone (presumably police officers) yell at him to “get on the ground,” after he’d already been shot.

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Customers gather outside the Dayton, Ohio Walmart where Mr. Crawford was shot and killed by police.
Customers gather outside the Dayton, Ohio Walmart where Mr. Crawford was shot and killed by police.

If this point of view is remotely true, it appears that Mr. Crawford was on the phone focused on his conversation with Ms. Johnson and completely unaware of how he was viewed by others as a threat. It also appears he was slow in responding to the police, or that they opened fire on him before he had a chance to process what was going on and respond to police commands.

Two shoppers who followed Mr. Crawford through the store—and who called 911 to report him—offer a very different perspective than that of Ms. Johnson:

April and Ronald Ritchie, in an interview Wednesday night with News Center 7’s Jessica Heffner and Dayton Daily News Staff Writer Kelli Wynn, said they were in the hardware department when they saw a man leaving an aisle and walk past them with the rifle pointed toward the sky.

“He got on his cell phone right after he walked past me,” April Ritchie said. Ritchie was on her cell phone, talking with her mother. She had broken an ankle and was riding a scooter.

“Guy. Gun. Hold on,” April Ritchie recalled telling her mother.

They followed the man at a safe distance and Ronald Ritchie, a former Marine, called 911 at 8:21 p.m.

“Anytime I saw people walking his way, I would get their attention,” April Ritchie said, waving her hands for the reporters to demonstrate what she did. She said at one point, a family was standing next to the man with the rifle, but didn’t notice the rifle. The man turned to look at them with a stare she described as if he was telling them, “don’t come near me.”

He was holding a cellphone between his left ear and left shoulder while messing with the rifle, she said. “He just kept messing with it and I heard a clicking,” she said.

Ronald Ritche said the man “was just waving it at children and people. Items…. I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying. I’m thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he’s there to shoot somebody else.” The man looked kind of serious, Ronald Ritchie said. “He didn’t really want to be looked at and when people did look at him, he was pointing the gun at them. He was pointing at people. Children walking by.”

Ronald Ritchie said the man wasn’t pointing the weapon at people as if he was going to shoot, but rather waving it in their direction as a threat.

The couple didn’t know Beavercreek police had arrived until they saw four or five officers appear in the Pets section, where the man with the rifle was standing.

“I heard, ‘put it down, put it down,’ ” April Ritchie said. “I heard two shots after I saw him turn. He still had the weapon in his hand.”

The Ritchies said the man fell backward when he was hit by the gunfire, but got back up and went toward the officer who shot him. That officer then tackled the man. Officers then handcuffed him and turned him on his back, Ronald Ritchie said.


To hear the perspective of the Ritchies, they were the reluctant heroes trailing a madman with a rifle who called 911 and prevented something bad from happening.

What I find troubling about their account is the apparent indifference of others in the store who encountered Mr. Crawford before he was shot. In the Ritchies account, the other customers did not act as if Mr. Crawford was a threat. They apparently didn’t see the rifle, or if they did, they had the ability to tell it was an airsoft rifle and not a real firearm. As for the Ritchies insistence that Crawford was waving the rifle at people, I have to wonder if that was merely an erroneous conclusion they drew based upon the scenario they created in their own heads.

What really matters, of course, is what happened when the Beavercreek Police arrived. Ms. Johnson insists that Mr. Crawford told someone—presumably the responding officers—that the rifle wasn’t real. She says that she then heard gunshots, and then orders from police to drop the rifle. The Ritchies suggest that Mr. Crawford turned upon hearing the police, and then police shot him as he still held the toy rifle.

One way or the other, the police gunned down a man who was not a threat to anyone. Whether they committed a crime in taking Mr. Crawford’s life remains to be seen. I suspect that they did not, but an Ohio Bureau of Investigation inquiry and prosecutor will ultimately be in charge of making that determination.

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My fear upon hearing both of these perspectives is that the Ritchies created a situation where a harmless man with no ill intentions was, in effect, SWATted to death.


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SWAT units were used excessively during the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, and fired more than a thousand rounds that fortunately only mildly injured one of the bombing suspects.

“SWATting” is the intentional practice of calling 911 and reporting someone committing a violent crime, in order to create an overwhelming police response (such as a SWAT team, which is how the term came about). We’ve discussed SWATting previously at Bearing Arms after radical left-wing talk show host Mike Malloy announced his intentions to SWAT open carriers in hopes of getting them shot:

I guess what I’ll do if I’m ever in that situation and I see one of these half-witted yahoos walking in with a weapon, high-caliber rifle like that, I’ll just put on a berserk act. I will just start screaming Gun! Gun! Gun! Watch out, everybody hit the deck! Guns! Guns! Everybody! And then dial 911 and I will say, shots fired, which will bring every g**-damned cop within 15 miles. And then the half-wits with the long guns are going to panic and they’re going to run out of the store and if that rifle isn’t shouldered properly, the cop is going to take a look at that and put a bullet right in their forehead.

It is my fear that Mr. & Mrs. Ritchie may have profiled Mr. Crawford—a man without a criminal record—based upon his race and age, bizarrely assuming that a man armed with a real firearm would be waltzing through Walmart without anyone else calling police.

Ronald Ritchie said of Mr. Crawford, “I’m thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he’s there to shoot somebody else,” and called 911 when no one else apparently found Mr. Crawford to be a threat.


As a result of his phone call and the actions of responding police, three small children will now grow up without a father.

Was it worth it?

Update: The law enforcement agency involved in the shooting was the Beavercreek Police Department. Beavercreek is a suburb of Dayton. We’ve updated the references in the story from Dayton to Beavercreek.

Update: Authorities have confirmed that Mr. Crawford was holding a Crosman Mk-177, a pump-action BB-gun that bears a vague resemblance to the FN SCAR. One of the officers involved in the incident was involved in a fatal shooting in 2010 that was ruled justified at the time.


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