The city of Akron, Ohio, was on edge Sunday after police released body-camera footage in the killing of an unarmed Black man who officers shot dozens of times as he fled from them on foot.
Jayland Walker was shot and killed at the end of a car chase early on the morning of June 27. Eight officers fired at Walker in a parking lot, authorities have said. Bobby DiCello, a civil rights attorney representing the Walker family, has said the 25-year-old was shot as many as 60 times.
An officer initially tried to stop Walker for a traffic or vehicle equipment violation a week ago about 12:30 a.m., Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett said during a Sunday news conference. Walker drove away and an officer gave chase. Less than a minute later, the officer said he heard a sound consistent with a gunshot, according to the footage released Sunday.
Police chased Walker for several minutes, before he pulled over and fled on foot while appearing to wear a mask, according to the video. Though police have said Walker made a movement toward officers that they perceived as a threat, no such action is clearly visible in the footage released Sunday.
As the video ends, the officers unleash a hail of bullets.
DiCello was first shown the footage Thursday and said he felt the air being “sucked out” of his lungs when he viewed Walker’s final moments.
“I made an involuntary sound. Something of a gasp and a squeezing sound,” he said. “I heard myself say, ‘Oh, no.’ I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.”
Mylett said Sunday that investigators recovered a handgun and a loaded magazine inside Walker’s car, displaying photos of both. He also said a bullet casing consistent with that weapon was recovered near the area where police believed Walker fired a shot during the car chase. But there is no indication Walker was armed when police began shooting at him.
Mylett also said officers tried to subdue Walker with stun guns earlier in the foot chase, but their shots missed.
In an interview with The Times on Sunday evening, DiCello expressed frustration with the way police presented the footage, angry that one of the first images released was that of a “masked Black kid.”
DiCello has said he met with Mylett last week and the chief admitted he saw no evidence of a threatening action taken by Walker.
“When he came and presented the video to us, he said, ‘I’ve been looking for the movement that put these officers in fear and I still can’t find it.’ It might be out there somewhere. But I still can’t find it,” DiCello said. “This is four days after the shooting.”
Asked about those comments on Sunday, Mylett declined to directly address them but admitted that “when you see it in real time it’s very hard to distinguish what Mr. Walker is doing.”
He added that still photos appear to show Walker reaching toward his waistband and pointing his arm toward officers, even though he was not holding a weapon. Mylett also said all eight of the officers who fired believed they saw Walker move and turn into a “firing position.”
DiCello said Mylett did not show him any evidence of that when they met last week.
Walker had no prior arrests or contacts with the Akron Police Department, according to DiCello. An Akron native, Walker was working as a DoorDash driver and mostly spending time with his mother and sister, the attorney said. His girlfriend died in a car accident last month, and while Walker was grieving, he was not suicidal or experiencing any mental health issues, according to DiCello.
Walker had fled the scene of a traffic stop in a neighboring town the night before, according to DiCello, though it was unclear why. DiCello said he assumed Walker fled out of fear, but maintained the 25-year-old was no threat to police and didn’t need to be chased.
“One department got it right and he went home and he slept in his own bed,” DiCello said. “Then we’ve got this second stop, and he went to a morgue.”
Mylett said he could not confirm the number of times officers fired but acknowledged it will likely be consistent with the high number DiCello has described to media outlets. He also confirmed Walker sustained approximately 60 wounds during the shooting.
“We do not know the exact number of rounds that were fired,” he said. “However, based on the video I anticipate that number to be high. … I will not be surprised if the number at the end of the investigation is consistent with the number being circulated in the media.”
The city of roughly 200,000 people has seen protests over Walker’s killing throughout the week, and city leaders appeared to fear the graphic video would spark chaotic demonstrations similar to those that followed the release of video of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.
DiCello said his client’s family has asked demonstrators to remain peaceful, a plea echoed by Mylett and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan on Sunday.
In total, 13 officers were on scene the night of Walker’s killing, eight of whom opened fire, according to an Akron police spokesman. The officers who shot Walker are on paid leave and the shooting is now under investigation by the Ohio attorney general’s office.
In recent years, police leaders in several major cities have greatly narrowed the situations in which officers can engage in vehicle pursuits, aware of the inherent dangers that chases pose to uninvolved civilians and officers themselves. In many cities, officers are barred from giving chase for any crime that isn’t a felony.
Whatever Walker’s initial traffic violation — Mylett said Sunday the specific traffic infraction was unclear — the decision to give chase over such an minor matter would have run afoul of best pursuit practices in most cities.
Mylett said the sound of the gunshot heard one minute into the pursuit changed the situation dramatically.
“As Mr. Walker turned onto the entrance ramp to Route 8 and the shot is fired, that changes the nature of the contact,” he said. “It went from being a routine traffic stop to now a public safety issue.”
But DiCello insisted the first gunshot was not aimed at officers, and may have even been an accidental discharge. At no point did Walker attempt to hurt anyone, DiCello said.
“If that person wanted to hurt police with a gun, when he slowed it down to 15 mph … you think he’d start shooting at officers,” the attorney said. “But he left his gun in the car.”