What happens next? State, local investigations of Akron police shooting could take a year

·8 min read
A protester holds a photo of Jayland Walker on Sunday in Akron.
A protester holds a photo of Jayland Walker on Sunday in Akron.

Many questions remain after Akron police shot and killed 25-year-old Jayland Walker following a traffic stop and vehicle pursuit. Getting all the answers, however, could take months or even a year.

The internal and external investigations into Walker's death could have a variety of outcomes, an expert on police investigations and forensics said.

These probes should provide answers to many, but possibly not all, of those remaining questions, including whether Walker fired a gun at police during the car chase and whether officers were justifiably threatened when they shot the unarmed man 60 or more times.

For the officers, the case could result in criminal charges, termination, discipline or none of the above. Any findings also could lay the groundwork for civil action against a city that in the past few years has settled some use-of-force cases with the victims of officer-involved shootings or their families.

Seven seconds of shooting: What 13 police bodycam videos show in Jayland Walker's death

Two investigations are underway: One by the city and another by the state. Community leaders, including the local and national NAACP, have also requested a review by the federal U.S. Department of Justice.

Here's what comes next, and what to expect.

How are officer-involved shooting investigations handled?

Investigations of fatal officer-involved shootings in Ohio are handled by local law enforcement agencies and, when requested by a local police chief or sheriff, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at the Oho Attorney General's Office.

The attorney general or a local prosecutor then presents the evidence to a local grand jury. It's up to the grand juries to charge the officers.

Akron police shooting: What we know — and still don't know — about the police shooting death of Jayland Walker

The Akron Police Department's Major Crimes Unit and the Office of Professional Standards and Accountability conduct internal investigations of deadly police encounters.

The Walker case is the first in which an Akron police chief has asked BCI to lead an investigation into a fatal shooting involving Akron officers. (Police Chief Ken Ball requested BCI to review the 2017 shooting death of a man outside the Haven of Rest, but the officer was from Stow.)

Since at least 2001, no officer who has shot and killed a suspect has been charged or indicted in Akron. The Summit County Prosecutor's Office could not speak to the time before Sherri Bevan Walsh took the reins.

Seven times since January 2021, the attorney general has presented evidence to grand juries across Ohio. In each of these fatal police encounters, the grand juries declined to indict.

BCI led four of these investigations and assisted at the crime scene or in the processing of evidence for the other three, which were led by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office or police departments in Cleveland and Springfield, a city northeast of Dayton.

The investigations took anywhere from three months, as in the highly publicized Ma'Khia Bryant case in Columbus, to a year. BCI led the Bryant investigation, which was done in less than three months but not presented to a grand jury in Franklin County until nearly a year after Bryant died in April 2020.

Within 24 hours of a decision by a grand jury, dozens of electronic files — photographs, evidence inventories, witness interviews, toxicology and lab reports, a radio log and more — are released online by the Ohio attorney general. That's when the Akron community will see the sworn statements of officers and other evidence in the Walker shooting.

Of the last seven cases prosecuted by the attorney general, the quickest a case went to a grand jury was eight months after a public housing officer in Cleveland shot Arthur Keith in the back within view of children at an after-school Boy & Girls Club program. The officer, who said Arthur pulled a gun, was not indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in July 2021.

How long do BCI investigations take?

A BCI investigation typically takes about 500 man-hours to complete, according to Steve Irwin, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General David Yost.

"It really depends on the scope or scale of the incident," Irwin said in May after the Beacon Journal inquired about a third deputy-involved shooting in less than a year in Portage County.

"BCI gathers all of the facts of what happened and then that is referred to the county prosecutor," Irwin said.

The investigations sometimes can take longer, depending on the processing of medical toxicology, digital evidence and other evidence, Irwin said.

The autopsy alone is taking longer than usual in the Walker case as the medical examiner must reconstruct the trajectory of potentially 60 or more bullets that hit their target.

In previous BCI investigations examined by the Beacon Journal, officers are typically interviewed within a month of the fatal incident.

Columbus police officer Nicholas Reardon, for example, was interviewed by BCI 20 days after fatally shooting Bryant. Springfield police officer Amanda Rosales, on the other hand, was interviewed seven days after she fatally ran over Eric Cole, who was laying in the street, pleading on the phone with 911 for help after being shot in the arm by police.

Once BCI presents its findings, a county prosecutor has the option to decline to file charges, take the evidence to a grand jury or appoint a special prosecutor who also would then take the case to a grand jury, Irwin said.

When will information be released?

The Summit County Medical Examiner's Office said preliminary autopsy findings could be released next week, but additional information will likely take months.

David Licate, a University of Akron professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice Studies, said information from the BCI investigation probably won't be released until it is completed and presented to a grand jury.

That includes the medical examiner's report and any other forensic results, including ballistics on the gun police said was found in Walker's car.

"They'll probably want to release it all together. They'll say it’s an ongoing investigation," Licate said. "Otherwise, people start to come to conclusions. Every time you release something, people’s emotions are going to be revisited."

That being said, Licate said the agencies involved understand the heated nature of this case and its implications and will likely try to work as quickly as possible.

"They're going to want to expedite but there's manpower issues, if you will, and there's certain things that can only be processed at a certain level or it's just going to be irresponsible for the professionals that are doing that to go much quicker," he said.

The formal interviews of each police officer involved, if they choose to give a statement, can take several days after the shooting to arrange, Licate said. Officers involved in such a case have been through an intense situation that can impair their immediate recall.

However, they do give a preliminary statement at the scene about what happened, he said, a process designed to help supervisors assess any remaining threats and if anyone's safety is still at risk. That's likely why Police Chief Steve Mylett was able to say in his press conference over the weekend that officers on scene reported seeing Walker make a motion toward his waist and then raise his arm, while saying later the officers had not yet given statements to investigators, and that APD is walled off from the investigation.

Will DOJ get involved?

One event can launch a Department of Justice investigation, Licate said, but it would take a finding of a pattern of civil rights violations for the department to stay involved.

"They would have to come in and they'd say it's a 'patterns and practices investigation,' " Licate said. "You have to find a pattern, so you'd have to show excessive force or other issues were occurring and there is a pattern."

If they find such evidence, the DOJ can issue a consent decree, assigned to a judge to enforce, that would require the police department to make changes to its policies or practices, or both.

Police union contract governs internal investigation

As suspects in deadly force cases, officers are afforded due process, which means they can refuse to give statements to investigators and are presumed innocent until proven guilty of anything from negligence to manslaughter or worse.

"Each and every officer involved is cooperating fully with an independent investigation conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Investigation," the Akron police union said in a statement Sunday.

Police union statement: Akron police union believes officers were 'justified' in shooting Jayland Walker

The city recently negotiated a new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7. A copy of that contract was not given by the city when requested Tuesday by the Beacon Journal.

Clay Cozart, the head of the police union, said the new contract was ratified this year but lawyers are still finalizing the documents.

What's in it matters, especially to the internal investigations.

The contract establishes the process by which the chief of police can question officers who might have broken the rules, received a citizen's complaint or used deadly force.

Interviews can't be too long and must allow for "rest periods and attendance to physical necessities," according to the previous union contract, which expired in December. Officers are afforded a union representative and their own lawyer if the city or county has an attorney present.

Since the department was an early adopter of body cameras in 2017, the contracts have prohibited Akron investigators from forcing an officer to speak until they get a chance to review body-worn camera footage or other recordings of the incident.

If evidence is gathered through the use of "administrative pressure, threats, coercion, or promises," it will be deemed inadmissible in any subsequent criminal action or civil service hearing.

The last iteration of the contract was updated to expressly state that any deviation from these rules would warrant a grievance from the union.

Reach reporters Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or Jennifer Pignolet at jpignolet@thebeaconjournal.com.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: BCI, Akron, federal investigations of police shooting of Jayland Walker