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Grand jury clears officer in death near Ohio housing complex

July 7, 2021 GMT

CLEVELAND (AP) — A grand jury has cleared a police officer in the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old Black man outside a public housing complex in Cleveland, Ohio Senior Attorney General Anthony Pierson said during a remote news conference on Wednesday.

Arthur Keith was shot by Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority officer James Griffiths after he and two other officers responded to a 911 call last November about a man with a gun.

According to Pierson, an officer opened the door of a vehicle and found Keith inside with a gun. Keith emerged from the vehicle and turned toward the officers with the loaded weapon in his hand. Griffiths fired four rounds, one of which struck Keith in the upper back. Keith took several steps before collapsing.

A surveillance camera captured the aftermath of the shooting, but not the shooting itself. Other cameras that would have recorded the shooting weren’t working, Pierson said.

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Keith and Griffiths apparently knew each other from the Boys & Girls Club, where Griffiths sometimes met with children from the neighborhood, an attorney for Keith’s family has said.

Stanley Jackson, an attorney for Keith’s family, said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon that he will ask for a federal civil rights investigation of the shooting.

“Mr. Keith did not pose a threat, Mr. Keith did not brandish a gun, and Mr. Keith was attempting to run after being startled and awakened in a car while he was doing nothing but being there,” Jackson said.

The shooting was investigated by the Cleveland police homicide unit. Pierson presented the case to a county grand jury in Cleveland.

During Wednesday’s news conference, state Attorney General Dave Yost said state investigations of two fatal law enforcement shootings in Columbus have been sent to the Franklin County prosecutor for his review.

Authorities have said Andrew Teague, 43, was shot in March following a vehicle pursuit and accident. Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, was shot by a Columbus police officer in April after, authorities say, she had swung a knife at a young woman.

Both Teague and Bryant were Black. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations handled both investigations.

Teague during the pursuit drove the wrong way on an interstate. He was shot during an exchange of gunfire with a Columbus police officer and a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy. It is not clear whether one of the officers or both shot Teague.

Bryant was shot four times by Columbus police officer Nicholas Reardon. Graphic images from Reardon’s body camera made national headlines and prompted Mayor Andrew Ginther to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a review of the Columbus Division of Police.

The victim’s family welcomed the news from the attorney general on Wednesday.

“Ma’Khia’s life, as we all know, was taken far too soon,” Michelle Martin, the family’s attorney, said. “And we must do everything that we can to make sure that it’s not swept under the rug.”

Bryant’s paternal grandmother, Jeanene Hammonds, said she hopes the county prosecutor carries out its own investigation of the incident to include all witness statements. Hammonds, who witnessed the shooting, said Wednesday that state investigators did not reach out to her for testimony until a month after Bryant was shot.

Yost said he is not making any legal recommendation to Franklin County prosecutors in the two cases and would not disclose the details of what the independent investigations found.

Shortly after the case was referred, Franklin County Prosecutor Greg Tyack designated Bryant’s case to special prosecutors because of the county prosecutor’s role as legal counsel for Franklin County Children’s Services, where the teen was in foster care at the time of her death.

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Farnoush Amiri, who reported from Chicago, is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.