Akron man shot dozens of times by police while fleeing traffic stop
Jayland Walker was found lying on his back while in handcuffs when a medical examiner arrived at the scene, according to officials.
Patrick Colson-Price, USA TODAY
As Akron, Ohio, police released body camera footage Sunday of the fatal shooting of Black motorist Jayland Walker showing multiple police officers discharging a hail of bullets, policing experts say the video produces more questions than answers early on.
Officers shot and killed Walker, 25, on Monday as he fled police who were pursuing him for a traffic violation and an equipment violation, according to authorities. Video showed officers unsuccessfully attempting to stop Walker using tasers as he fled his car, before discharging a flurry of rounds, killing him.
The footage released by police Sunday includes a narrated video of the events leading up to the shooting, as well as body camera footage of police pursuit of Walker and the fatal gunfire. Walker’s body was blurred in the video at the request of his family, according to police.
At a news conference Sunday, Police Chief Stephen Mylett said the medical examiner determined about 60 wounds on Walker’s body. It was not yet clear how many shots were fired by the eight officers who were 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 policing experts who say the videos on their own ultimately do not provide full clarity on key moments in the shooting, including what led police to switch from taser use to deadly force and what led to the volume of gunfire by police at Walker, who was unarmed when he was shot, according to Mylett.
Released body cam footage showed officers in pursuit of a silver Buick at 12:30 am 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.
The officers pursued Walker as he refused to stop before he finally fled from the passenger side door of the moving vehicle wearing a ski mask, the video shows. Multiple officers can be heard yelling at Walker before attempting to tase him, then firing a rapid series of rounds.
The videos released helped to provide context to the shooting, including the high volume of shots fired, how the pursuit unfolded and the attempted use of tasers by police before deadly force, according to Keith Taylor, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice at John Jay College.
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But the footage doesn’t directly show what caused officers to begin firing their weapons, Taylor said.
“My understanding is that he took a pose which appeared to show him getting ready to shoot at police officers and that was the cause of their use of lethal force,” he told USA TODAY. “I didn’t see that. And I’m sure that’s going to be critical in this investigation.”
Photos from the scene showed a gun on 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 during the vehicle chase. 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 allowed to own without training or permits. The bill also removes the legal requirement for gun owners to tell police they are armed when stopped.
“Ohio allows anybody to carry guns around, no questions asked,” Lawlor said. “That’s a recent policy Gov. DeWine just signed, no permit necessary. And when that happens, it’s more likely stuff like this will happen.”
The video may not be clear enough to determine whether Walker posed a risk to others, including police, during the pursuit, according to Mike Lawlor, associate criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven.
“The question about whether anyone gets charged with a crime is: did they reasonably believe someone’s life is in danger at that point?” Lawlor told USA TODAY.
Police departments have various procedures around what constitutes an authorization for a high-speed chase, and the speed at which Walker was driving from police could’ve posed a risk to others, according to Taylor.
“The driver actually driving away at a high speed created a public safety condition, because that driver could possibly run through a red light and kill somebody who’s walking across the street or driving through an intersection,” Taylor said.
Lawlor said most police departments have strict policies related to the initiation of high-speed chases, which often require the potential risk to others to be weighed alongside the nature of the crime for which the person is being pursued.
“So if this started out as pure equipment violation, which usually means like a defective tail light or there’s not a light on the license plate, that would never justify a pursuit in almost any part of the country,” he said.
The video also raises questions about the reason behind the volume of shots fired at Walker by Akron police.
Eight officers were directly involved in the shooting, and all have been placed on paid administrative leave, according to Mylett, in line with Akron Police’s policy following involvement in the use of deadly force. Five more officers were on the scene but not involved in the shooting.
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Multiple officers simultaneously perceiving Walker as a deadly threat could’ve led to the high number of shots fired, according to Taylor.
“I’m not certain that they had enough time to plan any kind of tactical approach to the situation,” Taylor said. “And I think all of them must have felt that 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 to their shooting response, Lawlor said.
“The training is if you believe that the force is justified, then you continue to shoot at center mass until the threat is gone,” he said. “They’re basically going to empty out their weapons.”
Both Lawlor and Taylor recognized the important role the transparency of the Akron police department in determining the full sequence of events. An Akron city ordinance passed last year requires police videos in cases involving the use of deadly force be posted online within seven days for the public to view.
Akron police released body camera footage from the scene of Walker’s killing on Sunday, six days after the shooting.
Contributing: John Bacon and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; Akron Beacon Journal; The Associated Press