The NAACP made a direct request to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday for the Justice Department to launch a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting death of Jayland Walker, a Black man who was killed by officers in Ohio last month in a hail of police gunfire.
In a letter to Garland, NAACP President Derrick Johnson stated that Walker, who was unarmed at the time of his death, was “executed by Akron, Ohio, police officers for a traffic violation.” He demanded that Garland launch an immediate federal investigation and that the officers be held accountable “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“We are urging you and your Department of Justice to conduct a thorough investigation into Jayland Walker’s murder and — if what we all saw with our own eyes is true — federally charge the officers responsible for his gruesome assassination,” Johnson wrote to Garland.
The letter comes just days before the Justice Department’s top civil rights official, Kristen Clarke, is scheduled to speak about police accountability at the NAACP National Convention in New Jersey. Garland has vowed to prioritize policing and civil rights, as well as combat racial discrimination, as Attorney General, saying during his confirmation hearing that America does not “yet have equal justice.”
Johnson previously met with Garland at the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington following the arrest of a white gunman accused of killing ten Black people in a racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Johnson’s letter late Thursday. The FBI, along with prosecutors from the civil rights division and the U.S. attorney’s office in Ohio, had previously stated that they were “closely monitoring and reviewing the circumstances surrounding” Walker’s death. The Justice Department has also stated that if evidence “reveals potential violations” of federal law, prosecutors will “take appropriate action.”
Walker was fatally shot by police on June 27 after officers allegedly attempted to stop his car for traffic and equipment violations. Walker allegedly fled and led officers on a brief car chase. According to Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett, the sound of a shot was heard from the car less than a minute into the pursuit, and a transportation department camera captured what appeared to be a muzzle flash coming from the vehicle.
As the vehicle continued to move, Walker slowed down and jumped out. Officers pursued him on foot into a parking lot, where he allegedly made a “deadly threat,” prompting officers to shoot him shortly after 1 a.m.
Walker was unarmed at the time the officers opened fire. A handgun, a loaded magazine, and an apparent wedding ring were discovered on the car seat. According to police, a casing consistent with the weapon was later discovered in the area where officers believed a shot had come from the vehicle.
The number of shots fired by the eight officers involved is unknown, but video shows officers firing a variety of bullets, and Walker received more than 60 wounds. According to an attorney for Walker’s family, officers continued to fire even after he was on the ground and handcuffed Walker before attempting to provide first aid.
“If the officers’ behavior didn’t already scream how inhumane and fatally dangerous they are, the fact that they handcuffed his corpse speaks volumes,” Johnson said.