AKRON, Ohio — Jayland Walker's family members said Thursday they are seeking answers and accountability after the 25-year-old was shot and killed by police officers after a vehicle pursuit for a traffic equipment violation.
The family used the news conference, held Thursday outside the St. Ashworth Temple Church in Akron, to ask for answers while also urging calm, their pleas punctuated by the sound of Walker's mother and sister screaming and crying in the background.
Watch a replay of the news conference below:
“Jayland was a sweet young man. He never caused any trouble,” said Lajuana Walker-Dawkins, Jayland’s aunt and the representative who spoke on behalf of the family. “We don’t know what happened. And we’d like to know. For the mother, the sister, the whole family, and the community.”
Bobby DiCello, one of the lawyers representing the family, said that they have not yet seen police body camera video from the incident, but said they expect to view it within 24 hours, and that they were told full body camera video would be released to the public by Sunday. DiCello said the family is also expected to meet with the chief of police within the next 24 hours.
“This is Jayland,” DiCello said while holding a photo of the Walker. “This is not a monster. This is not a man who ever caught a crime in his life. He’s a law-abiding citizen. He’s my client. And he’s our neighbor and our brother and our nephew, and we here to honor and celebrate him today.”
DiCello said Walker "never offended or bothered a soul," and how the events of Monday took place “leaves us with many, many, many questions. Our job, by doing this press conference, is to remind the police department for the City of Akron that were are here for accountability. We are also here to uphold the dignity of this man. Not to vilify him. Not to turn him into somebody he was never intended to be.”
Walker-Dawkins said that her nephew was “raised up in this family” and he was not associated with any kind of “militant behavior.”
“We just want what is right to be righted,” she said. “We love Jayland. He is my skinny little nephew. And we miss him. We just want some answers.”
Kenneth Abbarno, a lawyer who is also representing the family, said their mission as the family’s counsel is to search for and demand answers.
“Simple answers to questions – how and why,” he said. “And we hope we begin to get those answers as we begin to see the information that will come out.”
A News 5 reporter spoke briefly with a representative from the Akron Police Department on Thursday in an attempt to ask the same lingering questions the family is asking. He was told a city press conference is forthcoming, possibly as soon as Friday. For now, those questions remain unanswered.
The lawyer Abbarno claimed that portraying Walker as the reason for the shooting is “spin” and “protection” for the officers involved, and that, “we will learn in the coming days the real truth of what happened.”
“There are eight officers who need to answer questions, and we hope they do,” he said. “We surely hope they engage in the process and be forced to answer the difficult questions…He was shot for a traffic violation. We’re here to find out how, we’re here to find out why, and here to hold those accountable so that these events don’t have to happen.”
“We’re going to be asking questions to see what police did to de-escalate,” DiCello said. "What courage was displayed, and what rule-following was displayed? I’m going to say this to any police officer who wants to avoid accountability, it will not stand. We’ll get to the bottom of what occurred.”
DiCello said Walker was a DoorDash delivery driver, but he did not know if he was working at the time of the incident Monday. He said that Walker made no contact with family during the police incident.
DiCello said he is aware of reports of tasers being used, but he is not sure when they were deployed, or if they were deployed at all.
Several of the speakers during Thursday’s news conference reiterated calls for peace and understanding, and dissociated themselves from protests that took place outside the Akron Police headquarters Wednesday and Thursday morning.
“[Walker's family members] are not a part of and have not asked for any rule-breaking or any statements of violence on behalf of Jayland,” DiCello said. “They made it my mission to ensure it was a respectful and honorable moment for him.”
DiCello said that they stand for a peaceful dialog with police and thanked the chief for giving him and the family the forthcoming opportunity to review the body camera footage, which he said would happen in the next 24 hours.
“I need to ask each of you to remember that not all law enforcement are bad,” DiCello said. "We have to live in this community together.”
Judy Hill, the president of the Akron Chapter of the NAACP, called for peace and understanding, saying she wants the investigative process to play out, and that they hope to get the facts of what actually happened.
“We don’t want his dying to be in vain,” Hill said. “We pray for justice to be served, for systemic change to happen because of this.”
What led to the shooting
Captain Dave Laughlin, of the Akron Police Department, said it all started after midnight Monday when two officers were trying to stop a car on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.
Within a few seconds of being on Route 8, officers said a firearm was discharged from Walker’s vehicle.
Officers pursued him down Route 8 and I-77 where he exited into the Firestone Park Area before jumping out and fleeing on foot, heading northbound through a grassy area into a parking lot at Bridgestone.
According to Laughlin, Walker's actions "caused the officers to perceive he posed a deadly threat to them," and officers first used tasers and then opened fire in response, striking Walker multiple times and fatally wounding him.
Laughlin said officers didn’t see a weapon but heard a gunshot or multiple gunshots from the car on the entrance ramp of Route 8.
What we know about the shooting
According to News 5 media partner Akron Beacon Journal, which was permitted to look over an investigative worksheet for the case Wednesday at the medical examiner’s office, “the worksheet indicated that Walker was observed laying on his back and was in handcuffs when a medical examiner investigator arrived at the shooting scene.”
Walker was shot in the face, abdomen and upper legs, according to the report. A weapon was recovered from his vehicle, according to the Beacon Journal. Authorities didn't say how many times Walker had been shot.
Beacon Journal reporters who were able to view the medical examiner’s investigative worksheet said there were about 150 thumbnail photos attached, including more than 60 pictures showing bullet fragments. Based on information provided before today’s news conference, it is not clear how many bullets were fired, because those images may be of the same fragments from different angles. It is also not confirmed how many times Walker was shot, as officials have yet to answer that question.
The entire incident lasted just minutes.
“From the time they called out it out about four and a half minutes,” said Laughlin.
Who was Jayland Walker?
DeJournett, who is Walker's cousin, said the family is grieving and that he was a good person.
"The family is still trying to wrap their arms around this. He was not that kid," Robert DeJournett, pastor at St. Ashworth Temple in Akron told News 5. "Jayland didn't even have a parking ticket...Jayland had the biggest soul."
Akron Public Schools confirmed that Walker was a 2015 graduate of the John R. Buchtel Community Learning Center, a high school in Akron.
YouTube video posted by the school shows Walker winning a wrestling match in the 2014 Bill Dies Tournament.
Statement from the city
On Wednesday, Horrigan and Mylett released a joint statement offering sincere condolences to those who knew Walker and saying more information about what happened will be forthcoming soon.
“We know that no police officer ever wants to discharge their service weapon in the line of duty. And anytime they must, it's a dark day for our city, for the families of those involved, as well as for the officers. Tragically, we are once again faced with a young man, with his life before him, gone too soon. Every single life is precious, and the loss of any life is absolutely devastating to our entire community. Our prayers are with Jayland Walker’s loved ones, and we offer our sincere condolences to all those who knew him. Our thoughts are also with our Akron police officers and their families.
"We want to reassure our citizens that more information will be coming in the following days, including the body-worn camera footage that recorded this incident. We are keeping our promise to the community, understanding that there can be no trust without transparency and follow-through on commitment.
"We have every confidence in the Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation to conduct a thorough, fair, and honest investigation. We will cooperate fully with that investigation and have made it a top priority for our staffs. As a city, we are committed to this process and trust that it will yield a fuller understanding of this incident.”
Mylett told the Beacon Journal that the Akron Police Department will release all bodycam videos from the incident, not just the video required by a city ordinance which states they must release at least three body camera videos within seven days of the incident, which would be this Sunday. The law requires all footage be released within a month of the incident.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has taken over the investigation of Walker’s shooting death at the request of Akron Police, marking the first time the department has requested an outside agency investigate a deadly use of force involving one of its own officers.
BCI has assisted on the crime scene in 16 Akron cases since 2017, the Beacon Journal reports, and the department has only asked the state to take the lead once, in a 2017 case involving a mentally ill man shot and killed by a Stow officer.
The BCI investigation of Walker’s death will involve the collection of evidence to be submitted to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for presentation to a Summit County grand jury.
Mylett said he needs to balance his duty to provide information to the public with the need to not interfere with BCI’s investigation.
“The public is relying on them,” he said of BCI.
He told the Beacon Journal that he is concerned about the potential public backlash to Walker’s death, especially once the video is released. He said he knows there will be lots of questions about what happened and why.
“The public’s going to have questions,” Mylett said. “I’ve got questions. We’re going to rely on BCI to get the answers."
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