As Akron, Ohio, police released body camera footage of the fatal shooting of black motorist Jayland Walker on Sunday showing multiple officers unloading a hail of bullets, police experts say the video yields more than questions than answers from the start.
Officers shot and killed Walker, 25, on Monday as he fled from police chasing him for a traffic violation and an equipment violation, authorities say. Video showed officers unsuccessfully trying to stop Walker from using tasers as he fled his car, before unloading a flurry of bullets, killing him.
Footage released by police on Sunday includes narrated video of the events leading up to the shooting, as well as body camera footage of the police pursuit of Walker and the fatal gunshots. Walker’s body was blurred in the video at the request of his family, police say.
At a news conference on Sunday, Police Chief Stephen Mylett said the medical examiner determined about 60 wounds on Walker’s body. It is not yet known how many shots were fired by the eight officers involved in the shooting.
Walker was pronounced dead at the scene and his death from multiple gunshot wounds was ruled a homicide, according to the medical examiner.
USA TODAY spoke to two criminal justice and police experts who say videos alone ultimately don’t provide full clarity on key moments in the shooting, including what led police to pass from the use of the taser to lethal force and what led to the volume of gunfire by police at Walker, who was unarmed when he was shot, according to Mylett.
Video does not show what prompted officers to fire weapons, expert says
Body camera footage released showed officers chasing a silver Buick at 12:30 p.m. Monday for a traffic and equipment violation. While pursuing Walker in their cruiser, officers reported a gunshot coming from the door of Walker’s car.
Officers pursued Walker as he refused to stop before eventually fleeing from the passenger side door of the moving vehicle wearing a ski mask, the video shows. Several officers can be heard yelling at Walker before attempting to taser him, then firing a rapid series of shots.
The released videos helped provide context for the shooting, including the high volume of gunfire, the course of the chase and the attempted use of tasers by police prior to lethal force, according to Keith Taylor, assistant professor Assistant in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice at John Jay College.
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But the footage doesn’t directly show what caused the officers to start firing their guns, Taylor said.
“I understand he struck a pose that appeared to show him preparing to shoot some police officers and that was the cause of their use of lethal force,” he told USA TODAY. “I haven’t seen that. And I’m sure it’s going to be critical in this investigation.”
Photos from the scene showed a gun in the front seat of Walker’s car, and Mylett said video and audio appeared to show the flash of a gun and a gunshot from Walker’s car. Walker during vehicle pursuit. Walker was unarmed as he fled his car and ran from police, according to Mylett.
An Ohio bill signed by Gov. Mike DeWine earlier this year allows Ohio residents over the age of 21 to conceal firearms they are legally permitted to possess without training or a license. The bill also removes the legal requirement for gun owners to tell police they are armed when arrested.
“Ohio allows anyone to carry guns, no questions asked,” Lawlor said. “It’s a recent policy that Governor DeWine just signed, no permits are needed. And when that happens, things like this are more likely to happen.”
According to Mike Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, the video may not be clear enough to determine whether Walker posed a risk to others, including police, during the chase.
“The question of whether someone is charged with a crime is: did they reasonably believe that someone’s life was in danger at the time?” Lawlor told USA TODAY.
“Started out as a pure equipment violation”
Police departments have various procedures regarding what constitutes clearance for a high-speed chase, and the speed at which Walker was driving from police could have posed a risk to others, according to Taylor.
“The driver driving away at high speed has created a public safety condition because that driver could potentially run a red light and kill someone crossing the street or going through an intersection,” Taylor said.
Lawlor said most police departments have strict policies related to initiating high-speed chases, which often require the potential risk to others must be weighed against the nature of the crime for which the person is being prosecuted.
“So if it started out as a pure breach of equipment, which usually means a faulty taillight or no light on the license plate, that would never warrant a lawsuit in almost any regions of the country,” he said.
The video also raises questions about the reason for the volume of shots fired at Walker by Akron police.
Eight officers were directly involved in the shooting and all were placed on paid administrative leave, according to Mylett, in accordance with Akron police policy following the use of deadly force. Five other officers were at the scene but were not involved in the shooting.
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Multiple officers simultaneously perceiving Walker as a deadly threat could have led to the high number of shots fired, according to Taylor.
“I’m not sure they had enough time to plan a tactical approach to the situation,” Taylor said. “And I think everyone must have felt there was an immediate threat to their lives.”
The volume of shots fired may also be more closely tied to the number of officers involved than their response to fire, Lawlor said.
“The practice is that if you think the force is warranted, then you keep pulling on the center mass until the threat is gone,” he said. “They’re basically going to empty their guns.”
Lawlor and Taylor acknowledged the important role of Akron Police Department transparency in determining the full sequence of events. A city of Akron ordinance passed last year requires police videos in cases involving the use of deadly force to be posted online within seven days for the public to view.
Akron police released body camera footage of Walker’s murder scene on Sunday, six days after the shooting.
Contributors: John Bacon and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; Akron Beacon Log; The Associated Press