By Chrisleen Herard
Howard University News Service
Of the 94 bullets that flew into the air, it is unclear which one took the life of 25-year-old Jayland Walker as he ran from police in Akron, Ohio, after a traffic stop on June 27, 2022. Suffering from grazes, entrance wounds and blood loss, Walker was left on the ground dying in handcuffs. Months later, a grand jury decided not to indict any of the eight officers directly involved in his death.
“I was hopeful that one or two of them, for sure, would be indicted simply because, in my mind, nothing justifies 90 bullets, right? It just doesn’t,” said Judi Hill, president of the NAACP Akron chapter. “I find that hard to believe. I really do. I was taken aback.”
A special grand jury in Summit County Common Pleas Court concluded on Monday that there was not enough probable cause to indict the eight officers in the fatal shooting of Walker and that police were “legally justified in their use of force.”
According to police, officers attempted to stop Walker for a traffic and equipment violation along East Tallmadge Avenue. Instead, a police chase ensued for 4 ½ minutes before the eight officers fired over 90 rounds at Walker.
“My office’s work and the decision of the grand jury is driven by the law as it is not as it might be,” Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a press conference. “It is unusual, although hardly unprecedented, to have this many officers firing their weapon at the same time at a single subject.”
“That being said, it is critical to remember that Mr. Walker had fired on the police and that he shot first.” (See “Police Account of a Stop Gone Wrong,” below.)
Police officers claim that they heard a sound that was “consistent with a gunshot” go off in Walker’s car, along with a flash of light. They also said they later found an empty gun and a loaded magazine in Walker’s vehicle in addition to a matching shell case on the road where the chase took place.
“So we still question that, if that were true,” Hill said. “I find it very interesting that they can go back to where they thought that shot was fired at night and find a casing. I have issues with that scenario for the very simple reason that I’m still waiting for someone to say that they tested the gun to see if it had been fired that day. We still have not heard that.”
Jayland Edward Walker was a wrestler at Buchtel High School and worked as a DoorDash driver up until the time of his death. Walker had dreams of opening a delivery business and was engaged to be married. A wedding ring was among the items found in his vehicle the morning he died. Walker had hopes of having a family one day.
“He was just another guy — one of those kids where any parent would be proud to have him as a son, one of those unique kids that never caused any trouble,” said Walker’s cousin and family spokesperson, the Rev. Robert DeJournett, pastor of the St. Ashworth Temple COGIC. “But I’ll always remember his smile. Right? He had a unique smile all the time, all the time.”
DeJournett recalled the day he received the news of Walker’s death. “I was here at the church and got a call from my sister, saying that a detective was trying to contact me because something happened at my cousin Pam’s house.”
“[The detective] Facetimed me through Facebook Messenger and she said: ‘We need somebody to get over Walker’s house. We killed her son last night.’ Those were the words.”
When DeJournett arrived at the house, he saw Walker’s sister, Jada, but heard his mother, Pam Walker.
“Jada is sitting outside crying, just bawling and crying, and I hear this scream. I mean, a scream that I can never get out of my memory,” DeJournett recalls. “I will never forget [Pam’s] scream out of, just like, out of the depths of her heart to scream in pain and anguish about her baby, ‘My baby, my baby, they killed my baby.’”
Walker’s family says that he had “the biggest soul,” never bothered anyone and had never been in trouble before, except for a possible speeding ticket.
His family also stated that Walker gave them no indication that anything was seriously wrong. He wasn’t acting strange or suicidal before his death, even after losing his high school sweetheart and fiancee, Jaymiesha Beasley, a month earlier in a hit-and-run accident. The driver has yet to be found.
“He was definitely grieving, as would anyone of course, I can only imagine,” DeJournett said. “Even if he was still grieving, does it still justify shooting at him 90 something times?”
Dr. Lisa Kohler, the Summit County medical examiner, said no alcohol or drugs were found on Walker’s toxicology report.
After Walker’s death, Akron’s then newly appointed chief of police, Stephen Mylett, called upon the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (OBCI) to investigate whether the officers involved in the shooting would be criminally charged.
“It still even bothers me to talk about it, because here we wanted that independent investigation,” Hill said. “We did not want the city to do their own investigation.”
Veronica Sims, president of the Summit City Council, also reacted to Walker’s case and the grand jury’s decision. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around the extent of 90 bullets and over 40 hitting the body of a human being and that be justified,” Sims said..
“I share in the heartbreak of the community and felt the pain,” she added. “But even in the midst of that, there was still this sense of hope.”
Protesters took to the streets on Wednesday night to express their disapproval of the grand jury’s decision, but were met with chemical sprays and irritants. Police alleged that demonstrators had thrown rocks and bottles, deeming the protest as an “unlawful assembly.”
“I’m always concerned and have great deal of concern about the use of tear gases, because I believe that it does serve to escalate and, quite frankly, it’s dangerous,” Sims said. “And from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t see in any shape which it is necessary. So, we are pursuing, I am at least, from a county standpoint to address that.”
“But I think people have the right to assemble, and it can’t be left to other people’s interpretation based on the volume of their voices or how hard they stomp, whether or not that is peaceful or not. It’s their right, and we should make a way for them to be able to exercise that.”
The Akron Bail Fund, an organization that seeks to support and bail out demonstrators, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Akron for the police’s use of excessive force.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Emilia Sykes is calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the Akron Police Department following the jury’s decision not to indict the officers in Walker’s case. Chief Mylett also said that he would be conducting an internal investigation to determine whether the officers violated any policies during the time of the shooting.
“The safety and security of our neighborhoods requires trust between the community and the law enforcement officers who have taken an oath to protect and serve, but this trust has been violated and must be rebuilt,” Sykes wrote in a statement. “As such, I will formally request the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into the patterns and practices of the Akron Police Department to start the process of understanding how the department operates and look to create solutions for more community-focused policing that serves the needs of every segment of our community.”
“After the TV crews leave and the nation is no longer watching, it will only be us left to pick up the pieces,” she said. “Our community deserves the chance to heal and move forward, which we will do, must do — together.”
Furthermore, attorneys for Walker’s family plan to file a civil suit before the one-year anniversary of his death.
“We want every bullet accounted for; that is what was promised to the Walker family,” said Kenneth Abbarno, one of the family’s attorneys, said in a press conference after the grand jury decision. “Not a single bullet has been accounted for so far. … And we will push and advocate with grace and with dignity.”
“We’ve heard this time and time again. How does a traffic stop end up like this?”
Amid pending lawsuits and roaring protests across the city, DeJournett hopes that his cousin’s death will bring change to Akron and its system.
“My prayer is that something good comes out of this, this tragedy,” DeJournett said. “That we change policies [and] get more transparency in our police department. That we change the training with a training that’s more culturally competent. That we set a whole new direction, just really look into the way things have gone, the way things are, and if things stay the same, things will keep happening the same.”
“We have to really start peeling back the layers to get to the root cause of why [there is] such total disregard to human life. Why is this happening?”
Chrisleen Herard covers criminal justice for HUNewsService.com.
The Police Account of a Stop Gone Wrong
By Chrisleen Herard
Howard University News Service
Akron police contend that the nature of what started off as a traffic stop drastically changed when officers sought Jayland Walker during a vehicular chase and heard a sound that was “consistent with a gunshot” go off in his car, along with a flash of light.
“I hear a loud pop and see the muzzle flash. I, kind of am in shock. I didn’t um, expect that,” an unnamed Officer 1 said during an interview with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (OBCI). “I say, ‘Shots fired’ to my partner, and he calls out a ‘Signal 21,’ which means emergency radio traffic. We need help. This is a big deal. We just have been shot at.”
Police said they later found an empty gun and a loaded magazine in Walker’s vehicle in addition to a matching shell case on the road where the chase took place. Walker’s family, community leaders and elected officials have been calling for federal and independent investigations as well as specific details about the gun and casing.
Walker eventually abandoned his car while it was still moving, police said, running out in a ski mask and some gloves and leading officers on a foot pursuit to a nearby parking lot.
Though police initially attempted to use tasers to detain Walker, “actions by the suspect caused the officers to perceive he posed a deadly threat to them,” according to a Facebook post by the Akron Police Department.
“I saw his eyes, and he just turned and ran,” an emotional Officer 2 said in his interview. “All I could think [was], ‘No. No. No. No. Don’t.’ Like, ‘Just stop.’… I remember thinking to myself like, ‘Maybe I should try to use my Taser?’ Um, but then I quickly was like, ‘Well, I don’t want to have a Taser in my hand if he has a gun. … That’s not going to happen.”
Police claimed that they saw Walker turn toward them and motion at his waist, and that they believed he was preparing to open fire before they responded with 90 gunshots.
“At that time, I was fearful for my life and I was fearful for every life of the officers that were presently on scene,” Officer 8 said. “He was presenting himself in a way that he was going to attempt to shoot at officers.”
Walker’s body was left riddled with 46 bullet wounds as he lay deceased on the concrete pavement. An investigator from the medical examiner’s office reported that Walker was “observed laying on his back in handcuffs” when they arrived on the scene.
Dr. Lisa Kohler, the Summit County medical examiner, later said in a press conference that her office was unable to identify the bullet that killed Walker, as he “had several very devastating injuries that would cause death, including injuries to his heart, lungs and arteries.” Kohler concluded that Walker’s cause of death was due to blood loss from his internal organs.
The Akron Beacon Journal filed a lawsuit to obtain body camera footage after police failed to deliver the rest of the images within 30 days of the shooting, violating Ohio’s Police Camera Ordinance law.
“Does anyone see the gun? Does anyone see the gun?” As Walker lies on the ground, officers are heard in the footage asking each other if they can spot his supposed weapon, which was never found on the scene at the time of the shooting.
After officers made sure that no one from their team was injured, they continued to cuff Walker before some surrounded him to give him medical attention. The officers who were involved in the shooting, however, were separated from the group before one called out an order to “go blue,” muting the audio for the remainder of the footage.
According to Akron Police Captain David Laughlin, though “go blue” is an unofficial police term, officers are permitted to mute their body-cam microphones, usually after completing a citizen contact.
In the aftermath of a shooting, Laughlin said, the procedure calls for police to check on one another and divide themselves into pairs of an officer who was involved in the incident and an officer who wasn’t. From there, pairs are sent off in separate patrol cars to wait for detectives and other law enforcement to give their report.
Pamela Walker, Jayland Walker’s mother, who had never seen any of the released footage at the time, said in a Washington Post article: “I don’t want to see it. … I want to remember him as my beautiful son that loved and cared for his family.”
Walker’s aunt, Lajuana Walker-Dawkins, who Jayland would call “Aunt Mini,” said in a press conference that she just wants the public to know who Jayland was and does not want him to be portrayed as a “thug.”
Chrisleen Herard covers criminal justice for HUNewsService.com.