(AKRON, Ohio) — A special grand jury will be seated Monday to decide whether to indict any of the eight Akron, Ohio, police officers involved in the death of Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man who had 46 gunshot wounds in his body after being shot by police following a 2022 attempted traffic stop, an episode that sparked riots in the city last summer.
Bracing for the Summit County grand jury’s decision, businesses in downtown Akron began boarding up windows over the weekend and the city has erected a fence and barricades around the courthouse where the special grand jury will be empaneled specifically to hear evidence in the Walker case.
“The city of Akron has been preparing for the grand jury results since last summer,” Stephanie Marsh, a spokesperson for the city, said at a news conference Friday. “The most important part of our preparation has been building relationships with our community members and establishing better lines of communication.”
Authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of what occurred last summer when police used tear gas to disperse angry demonstrators gathered outside police headquarters and arrested about 50 protesters on charges of rioting, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and misconduct at an emergency. The charges against most of those arrested were later dropped.
Anticipating “strong reactions to the impending grand jury decisions,” city officials have created a demonstration zone near the courthouse “to allow for residents to safely demonstrate, protest and exercise their first amendment rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” reads a statement issued on the city’s recently relaunched critical information website.
The attorney for Walker’s family, Bobby DiCello, criticized city officials who are “boarding up windows and bracing for violence,” arguing in a statement that the city “doesn’t trust a significant portion of its citizens.”
“Today, the family of Jayland Walker urges you to be mindful of how important it is that in America, everyone has equal access to justice and a fair process. They are not advocating for anything more than that,” DiCello said in a statement to ABC News. “Unfortunately, this process is already stacked against them, but they will continue to fight for the justice that they and Jayland deserve.”
Prosecutor explains grand jury process
Craig Morgan, the city of Akron’s chief prosecutor, took the unusual step on Friday of holding a livestream seminar to explain to the community the basics of the grand jury process.
“A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence,” Morgan said. “The purpose of the grand jury is to determine whether sufficient probable cause exists to charge a person or persons with a particular offense or offenses.”
Morgan said the state Attorney General, which is prosecuting the case, is presenting evidence to the special grand jury because in Ohio, most “felony matters flow through the grand jury at the beginning of the process.”
“This is done often in situations involving extremely lengthy investigations, investigations that involve a high volume of evidence and complex legal issues,” Morgan said.
Nine Summit County registered voters will be empaneled as primary grand jurors and three to five people will be picked to serve as alternates, Morgan said. At least seven jurors are required to vote yes in order to issue an indictment, also referred to as a true bill.
Morgan warned that any protesters who resort to violence will be arrested and prosecuted.
“The types of things that will cause a protest to transition into people being arrested is when windows are being smashed and fires are being set, people are being subjected to physical harm,” Morgan said.
He said it is expected to take a week for prosecutors to present the case to the grand jury.
“The variable, the unknown, that we don’t have is we don’t know how long it will take jurors to deliberate,” Morgan said.
46 gunshot wounds
The fatal shooting involving Walker unfolded just after midnight on June 27, 2022, when two police officers attempted to stop Walker for a minor vehicle equipment violation, police said. Walker led officers on a brief car chase before exiting out the passenger side door while his vehicle was still moving and attempted to run, authorities alleged.
Walker was unarmed when he was fatally shot while running away from eight officers, who opened fire on him, body camera footage released by the city showed.
An autopsy determined Walker suffered 46 gunshot wounds, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office. Walker had injuries to his face, heart, both lungs, liver, spleen, left kidney, intestines, pelvis, iliac artery and several bones in his legs, according to the medical examiner.
About a week after Walker’s death, officials released police body camera footage from the incident. During a news conference, Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett freeze-framed a section of the footage capturing a flash of light coming from Walker’s car and said it appeared to be the muzzle flash of a gun fired from the driver’s side of the vehicle and aimed at pursuing officers.
In a second body camera video, officers are heard radioing that a shot was fired from Walker’s car. The footage shows an officer following Walker’s Buick off Route 8 and continuing the pursuit on side streets.
Mylett said as Walker jumped from his vehicle and ran, he appeared to reach for his waistband, turn toward the officers and move an arm forward, prompting the officers to open fire.
While the video confirmed Walker was unarmed when he was shot, Mylett said the body camera footage also captured a handgun with a separate loaded magazine and what appeared to be a gold wedding band left on the driver’s seat of Walker’s car.
While the eight officers who fatally shot Walker were initially placed on administrative leave, they were all reinstated to active duty in November. The officers were assigned to administrative duties due to a staffing “crisis,” according to Mylett said.
‘How do you need that many bullets for one person?’
“That was too much. Too much. How do you need that many bullets for one person?” Walker’s mother, Pamela Walker, told ABC News in last July. “And he was a slight-build guy. He was 6 (foot) 2, but he only weighed probably 160 pounds. And I’m sure probably two of their bullets would have killed him anyway. And you needed eight people to be shooting at him like that? I can’t even fathom how you can stand there and just empty out your gun on someone who’s running away from you, who was running away whether he had a gun or not.”
None of the officers involved in the Walker shooting or their attorneys have spoken publicly about the case.
Akron’s Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 7, the union that represents the officers, released a statement early in the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s independent probe of the shooting defending the actions of the officers.
“The decision to deploy lethal force as well as the number of shots fired is consistent with use of force protocols and officers’ training,” the union said.
According to the union, the officers “reasonably believed that Mr. Walker presented an immediate threat of serious physical harm or death and lawfully, based on their training as well as state and federal law, discharged their weapons.”
The union’s statement added, “We believe the independent investigation will justify the officers’ actions, including the number of shots fired.”
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.