CINCINNATI – A 911 caller who reported a man waving a gun in a Wal-Mart before police fatally shot him and found he had an air rifle he took from a shelf could be charged with making a false alarm, according to a judge's ruling.
Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Beth Root ruled this week that there was sufficient evidence to show Ronald Ritchie could be prosecuted for the misdemeanor stemming from the Aug. 5 police shooting of John Crawford III in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek.
Root reviewed sworn statements from several private citizens, who submitted a copy of Wal-Mart surveillance video synchronized to the 911 call and alleged that Ritchie violated several laws. The judge leaves it up to the Beavercreek city prosecutor to decide whether to charge Ritchie.
Calls to Fairborn City Solicitor Betsy Deeds, who prosecutes for the city of Beavercreek, weren't immediately returned Thursday.
Ritchie, the only person to call 911 from Wal-Mart before shots were fired, told police in his call that there was a man walking around with a gun in the store.
"He's, like, pointing it at people," Ritchie told a dispatcher. Ritchie said the man appeared to be loading what looked like a rifle and was "waving it back and forth," according to a recording of his call.
Ritchie, of Riverside, told investigators the gun looked like an assault rifle and he believed it was a real weapon. Police also said they believed Crawford, 22, had a real rifle and said he didn't respond to commands to put it down.
Root noted the poor quality of the video that she said showed about four minutes of Ritchie's call.
"The court does note that at the time that Ronald Ritchie is relaying to dispatch that Mr. Crawford is pointing the gun at two children, the video does not depict this event," the judge wrote.
The judge wrote that there wasn't sufficient evidence to issue a criminal complaint against Ritchie for inciting violence, inducing panic, involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.
Ritchie could not be reached for comment Thursday. No current phone listing could be found for him.
Crawford's relatives and their attorneys have said Crawford posed no threat and have disputed Ritchie's description of Crawford's actions. A grand jury concluded the shooting by police was justified, and the U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the case.
An attorney for Crawford's immediate family said Ritchie was "gravely mistaken," but they hold the police responsible for what happened.
"It's the police's duty to show up and assess the situation prior to taking any type of action. So the fact that they came to the scene based on this faulty 911 call and shot John without properly assessing the situation, we blame the police department," attorney Michael Wright said Thursday.
The family had nothing to do with the issue brought before Root and wasn't even initially aware that was happening, Wright said.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.