Should 911 callers fear criminal charges?

Posted at 5:58 PM, Apr 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-07 19:06:50-04

BEAVERCREEK, Ohio – “If you see something, say something.”

A court case pending in the Dayton area could put a chill on that oft-repeated law enforcement mantra as a group of private citizens seek charges against a man who called 911 before police shot and killed a man holding an air rifle at the Beavercreek Wal-Mart.

In August of 2014, ex-Marine Ronald Ritchie called 911 and reported that a man was pointing a rifle at people near the pet section and said that “he’s loading it right now.” Later, Ritchie said, “He looked like he was trying to load it, I don’t know.” He then added, “He just pointed it at two children.”

The man Ritchie reported, John Crawford III, was actually holding an air rife he had picked up in the store. Police shot and killed Crawford, saying he ignored commands to drop the rifle. A grand jury chose not to indict Officer Sean Williams in the shooting.

Now, more than a year later, 10 people who linked audio from the 911 call recording to store surveillance video said what happened didn’t match what Ritchie reported. They filed affidavits and a judge ruled there was probable cause for prosecutors to consider charging Ritchie with making false alarms.

Bomani Moyenda, one of the people who filed the affidavits against Ritchie, told WCPO news partner the Journal-News that Ritchie “created the incident.”

However, Crawford’s family members have blamed police for the shooting.

“He shouldn’t have made that phone call,” Michael Wright, the Crawford family’s attorney said. “Based on the video, we do know that he was making assertions that were not correct. However, it wasn’t his fault why John Crawford is dead.”

University of Cincinnati law professor Christo Lassiter said the issue boils down to what Ritchie was thinking at the time.

“The charge that the prosecution will have to mull over was whether or not there was intentional falsehood,” Lassiter said.

Retired UC Police Chief Genere Ferrara said the case could impact future emergency callers.

“I think the potential is there, if people see that someone who made a 911 call was criminally charged for that act, I could see where that could cause someone to say ‘I’m not sure I want to make that call.’”