A grand jury in the US state of Ohio has cleared eight police officers of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a Black man after a vehicle and foot chase last year, as authorities prepare for a new round of demonstrations against alleged police misconduct.
The decision on Monday renewed calls for accountability for Jayland Walker, whose killing in June 2022 in the city of Akron led to protests for racial justice.
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In the United States, judges or grand juries – a randomly selected group of citizens – need to approve criminal charges to bring suspects to trial.
On June 27, 2022, Akron police officers attempted to pull over Walker, 25, after a traffic violation. Walker fled in his car and officers gave chase for more than seven minutes, during which time they saw a firearm discharge from his vehicle, police said.
Walker then jumped out of the moving vehicle and ran. Officers caught up to him in a parking lot, where they opened fire when they perceived he posed a deadly threat to them, police said.
Eight police officers shot Walker 46 times, including five times in the back, according to an autopsy conducted by Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler.
The autopsy also found that Walker had no drugs or alcohol in his system, she said three weeks after the incident. A gun was found in Walker’s vehicle, police said.
The Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for accountability after Monday’s decision.
“Until we address the systemic issues of racism, implicit bias, white supremacy, and white privilege in our criminal legal institutions – especially metropolitan police departments – we will not have peace,” the organisation said in a series of tweets.
“We support grassroots efforts to install a community oversight body in the wake of this tragedy and the many before this, and urge the city to move forward on measures promoting accountability of law enforcement.”
Jayland Walker should still be alive today. 🖤
We stand with Jayland’s friends and family and the entire community of Akron on this very difficult day.
To everyone taking to the streets to protest, know your rights. 👇🏾 pic.twitter.com/E2MeAqA9vb
— ACLU of Ohio (@acluohio) April 17, 2023
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said his office “neutrally” presented the evidence to the grand jury, which he described as a “voice of the community”.
While describing the footage of the incident – with so many officers shooting at Walker at the same time – as “grievous”, Yost stressed that the 25-year-old had fired at police first.
“Multiple officers each making an independent judgment about a threat and acting independently to neutralise that threat creates a dynamic that amplifies the use of force exponentially,” the attorney general said.
“That being said, it is critical to remember that Mr Walker had fired on the police and that he shot first.”
The US has been grappling for years with issues of police brutality, particularly against Black citizens.
Last year, President Joe Biden promised that federal authorities would look into Walker’s killing.
“If the evidence reveals potential violations of federal criminal statutes, the Justice Department will take the appropriate action. And I just want you to know what’s going to happen,” Biden said.