The family of a man fatally shot by police at a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio can move forward with their wrongful death lawsuit against the retail giant, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
John Crawford III, of Fairfield, was shot and killed in August 2014, by a Beavercreek officer inside Walmart while he was holding a pellet gun. He was 22.
Crawford's family sued the retailer later that year, claiming it failed to prevent Crawford from carrying an unpackaged pellet gun through the store and among customers, causing police to believe he was armed with a real gun.
The family also filed suit against Beavercreek police officers Sean Williams and David Darkow, former Police Chief Dennis Evers and the city. Those claims were resolved in a settlement for $1.7 million and police policy changes.
The pellet gun, which resembled an automatic rifle, was out of the box and on a shelf, according to a 2014 Enquirer article. Crawford picked up the pellet gun and aimlessly walked around the store.
Court records say video footage showed Crawford standing in an aisle, with the gun pointed down, talking on his phone just before he was confronted by police.
A district court judge dismissed the wrongful death claim, but this week's 2-1 decision by Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the lower court's ruling.
"At the time of Crawford's death, Walmart had no policies in place to prevent customers from picking up unsecured and unboxed pellet guns… and carrying them around the store without employee supervision" the court's majority opinion reads.
"A reasonable jury could find that Walmart failed to prevent Crawford from carrying a look-alike AR-15 openly around the store... and that this omission created an excited state of mind in Williams, who fatally shot Crawford because he feared that the gun he believed was being turned towards him was a genuine assault rifle," the opinion reads.
The court's opinion allows Crawford's family to move forward with their wrongful death claim. The family is also suing Walmart on other claims, including negligence.
"We take the safety and security of our customers seriously and continue to sympathize with family of John Crawford," Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove said in a statement to the Associated Press. "We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling, and we will continue defending the company."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Wrongful death claim against Walmart can move forward, court says