BEAVERCREEK — Two Beavercreek police officers being sued by the family of the late John Crawford III are asking for a stay, or temporary delay, in the civil lawsuit proceedings against them.
According to a court document filed by legal counsel for Officer Sean Williams and Sgt. David Darkow, the move to stay discovery in the case comes because of an ongoing investigation into Crawford’s death being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Because the federal criminal investigation remains ongoing, defendants are faced with the impossible and conflicting decision to invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and forgo the opportunity to defend themselves in this civil case or waive their privilege and potentially face criminal charges based upon their own testimony in this case,” the document states.
Crawford was shot and killed by Williams in the Beavercreek Wal-Mart Aug. 5, 2014, with Darkow standing nearby. Officers were brought to the store after a 911 caller alerted police to a man waving a rifle at store customers. Police say Crawford was shot after he didn’t respond to their commands to put down the rifle, which was later discovered to be a BB gun he picked up off a store shelf.
While a Greene County grand jury considered the case in September 2014 and declined to return an indictment against the officers involved in the shooting, the two could still potentially face federal charges if the DOJ investigation determined any federal laws had been broken.
Crawford’s family filed the federal, civil lawsuit against Williams and Darkow, as well as the city of Beavercreek, Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers and Wal-Mart, in December 2014 in relation to Crawford’s death.
The civil lawsuit listed 17 counts against the defendants, ranging from assault and battery against the officers directly involved in the shooting, to negligent training and supervision against Evers and the city of Beavercreek, to negligence against Wal-Mart, as well as other charges. In the lawsuit documents, the family asked for a jury trial and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000.
According to the motion filed by the officers’ attorneys Nov. 20, the DOJ investigation investigation remains ongoing, and as recently as September 2015, the DOJ had contacted Wal-Mart requesting information and access to the store.
The document argues that if the civil case would proceed, the officers could invoke their Fifth Amendment rights, but would be forced to “pay a hefty price,” because they “will essentially have to forfeit any defense in this civil action, as a civil defense and remaining silent are mutually antagonistic choices.”
The document argues that the “significant overlap between this case and the federal criminal investigation weighs heavily in favor of a stay, as the extent to which these two undertakings overlie creates a danger of self-incrimination on the part of Officer Williams and Sgt. Darkow.”
The document asks for a stay for a definite period of time, such as six months, at the end of which, the court could re-evaluate the stay.
A federal judge will make a ruling on the request after responses to the motion by other lawsuit parties are filed. Responses are due Dec. 14, according to online court records.
A similar stay was granted in June to two Cleveland police officers involved in the deadly shooting of Tamir Rice. Attorneys for those officers made similar arguments in relation to a civil lawsuit and potential criminal charges and were granted a temporary stay of discovery.
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.