AKRON, Ohio – Authorities on Sunday released “heartbreaking” video of the fatal shooting of Black motorist Jayland Walker in a hail of bullets minutes after Akron police say he fled a traffic stop last week.
The eight officers directly involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, and the city canceled its four-day Fourth of July festival as stunned residents and city leaders await the results of an investigation into Walker’s death.
Videos released Sunday show officers converging on Walker’s silver Buick at the end of a chase. Walker apparently exits the car in a ski mask, and Police Chief Stephen Mylett said it appeared that Walker reached toward his waist during a foot chase and briefly turned toward officers. They opened fire.
Mylett said the medical examiner found about 60 wounds on Walker’s body, although the exact number of shots fired has not been determined.
The chief said that when the shooting stopped the officers immediately attempted to provide care to Walker, but that he died at the scene. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting the investigation at the request of Akron police.
Hundreds gathered downtown Sunday afternoon for a rally organized by the Akron chapter of the NAACP. Many carried homemade signs and chanted “No more dying” as they marched towards City Hall. Black lawmakers, including city and state representatives, spoke to the crowd that grew to an estimated 1,000 people.
Mayor Daniel Horrigan pleaded for calm and for patience while the investigation is taking place. “The video is heartbreaking, it’s hard to take in,” Horrigan said.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson issued a statement saying the officers involved should be held accountable.
“This wasn’t self-defense, it wasn’t an accident in the heat of the moment, it was murder. Point blank,” Johnson said. “This Black man was killed – struck more than 60 times by 90 fired bullets – for a possible traffic violation. This doesn’t happen to white people in America.”
Did Jayland Walker shoot at police?
Video showed a gun on the front seat of Walker’s car, and Mylett said video appeared to show the flash of a gun from the car during the chase. But he apparently was unarmed as he fled the car and ran from police, the chief said.
At a news conference Sunday, Mylett was asked if officers overreacted to the perceived threat.
“It was difficult to watch, and shocking,” Mylett said, adding that “I’m not going to pass judgment” until the investigation is completed. But he said when an officer “makes the most critical decision in his or her life” to point a gun at someone, they must not only be ready to explain shooting, but to explain “for every round down the barrel of gun.”
Mylett praised the Walker family for their call for peaceful demonstrations.
The police department said it was releasing all footage of Monday’s shooting, rather than just videos required by law within one week, after first showing the footage to Walker’s family.
Justice Department monitoring shooting
The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office said Walker died from multiple gunshot wounds and ruled it a homicide. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the FBI field office in Akron were “closely monitoring and reviewing the circumstances” surrounding Walker’s death, the Justice Department said in a statement.
“The FBI continues to coordinate with state and local partners to provide resources and specialized skills,” the statement added. “If the evidence reveals potential violations of federal criminal statutes, the Justice Department will take appropriate action.”
Bobby DiCello, an attorney for Walker’s family, called the video “brutal.”
“It’s going to stir up some passion. It’s going to make people uneasy,” DiCello said ahead of the video’s release.
Police said Walker, a 25-year-old DoorDash driver, refused to stop his car and fired at officers during a chase. Officers on the scene said Walker jumped out of his rolling vehicle and created a “deadly threat,” leading officers to use stun guns, which failed, and then firearms.
Walker was found lying on his back while in handcuffs when a medical examiner arrived at the scene, according to an investigative worksheet for the case shown to the Beacon Journal at the medical examiner’s office. Walker had been shot in the face, abdomen and upper legs, the report said, adding that a weapon was recovered from his vehicle.
Traffic camera video obtained by the Beacon Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, shows at least 10 police cruisers pursuing Walker’s vehicle at one point during the chase.
Was the pursuit justified?
Mylett said the police response changed when they believed Walker was shooting. That moved the situation from “being a routine traffic stop to now a public safety issue,” he said.
Mike Lawlor, associate criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven, says the video raises more questions than answers.
“So if this started out as clear equipment violation, which usually means like a defective tail light or there’s not a light on the license plate, something like that, that would never justify a pursuit in almost any part of the country,” he said. “The question about whether anyone gets charged with a crime is: did they reasonably believe someone’s life is in danger at that point?”
Lawlor noted that officers first use stun guns, which would not be used if officers believed their lives were in danger, he said.
“Those are the kinds of things that make this seem like a classic example of a pursuit that wasn’t necessary, a use of deadly force that wasn’t necessary,” he said.
Akron’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement Sunday the independent investigation will prove the actions, including the number of shots fired by the officers, were justified. The FOP said officers were aware of Walker fleeing a traffic stop the previous morning in New Franklin and said he failed to “obey a lawful order to stop” in Akron.
“This incident is a tragedy for our entire community, including the family of Jayland Walker, as well as all of the officers involved,” the release said.
The city canceled its Rib, White, & Blue Festival that had been scheduled to open Friday and run through the Fourth of July.
“I completely understand that some residents and guests will be disappointed by the decision to cancel the festival this holiday weekend,” Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I feel strongly that this is not the time for a city-led celebration.”