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No charges for CMHA officer who shot, killed 19-year-old Arthur Keith, Attorney General's office says

Attorney for Keith's family says case wasn't fully investigated
Arthur Keith.jpg
Posted at 10:01 AM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 23:46:07-04

CLEVELAND — Charges will not be filed against the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority officer who allegedly shot 19-year-old Arthur Keith in the backside of his armpit last November, according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office and an attorney for the man’s family.

A grand jury was presented the evidence gathered by the Cleveland Police Department in the case, came to the conclusion that the CMHA officer "acted reasonably," and declined to indict any of the officers involved in the case, according to Anthony Pierson, a prosecutor with the Attorney General's Office, who spoke during a news conference Wednesday.

Evidence presented to the grand jury includes 911 calls, dispatch calls, witness interviews, DNA evidence, and surveillance video that did not capture the shooting itself, but did show Keith falling and officers approaching him after he was shot, Pierson said.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Keith's attorney Stanley Jackson disputed the evidence in the case and said it was not fully and transparently investigated. He said several eyewitnesses were never interviewed by investigators, and surveillance footage was never made available.

You can watch the full news conference in the media player below:

Family of Arthur Keith reacts to news that charges will not be filed against officer

"We are saddened because we know that a full investigation was not completed," said Jackson. "We were told by the Attorney General they were going to do a complete investigation. We know for a fact they did not."

Jackson said he intends to request a federal civil rights investigation into CMHA police and the review of the shooting.

On November 13, 2020, CMHA officers responded to the King Kennedy housing complex in Cleveland after receiving a 911 call about a man with a gun in a black Chrysler minivan, who had allegedly been seen shooting off a gun previously, according to Pierson, who recounted the investigation.

Three officers arrived on scene and approached the minivan, Pierson said. They saw a person moving inside. One officer opened the minivan door, and saw Keith in the back of the vehicle with a gun. Officers gave commands for Keith to drop the gun and get out of the vehicle.

Investigators said Keith then pointed a gun at officer James Griffiths, who then shot him four times. Pierson said Wednesday that only the CMHA officer said Keith pointed a gun at him; no other witnesses confirmed that. Pierson said Keith's DNA was on the trigger, slide and magazine of the gun.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office said in March that Arthur Keith was shot in the backside of his left armpit area by a CMHA police officer.

“The gunshot wound proceeds from back to front, rightwards and downwards,” the medical examiner said on the course and direction of the gunshot.

RELATED: Medical examiner says 19-year-old was fatally shot in the backside of armpit by CMHA officer

Pierson said that the gunshot wound, which entered Keith's upper back near the armpit area and exited through his right chest, was consistent with the officer's claim that Keith was aiming the gun at him.

Cleveland police said the officers secured a firearm from the teen before administering first aid.

Weeks after the shooting during a news conference, Jackson said 10 witnesses disputed claims made by investigators in the case. While Pierson did say witnesses were subpoenaed as part of the investigation, he did not say whether any of the witnesses who disputed the officers' claims provided testimony to the grand jury.

"Officer Griffiths did state in his interview that he saw Arthur Keith with a gun," said Pierson. "I don't believe there are other witnesses who indicated they saw Arthur Keith with a gun."

Keith's aunt called for greater transparency in the investigation, including renewed calls for CMHA leadership to release surveillance video of the shooting.

"We're coming here today because we were told to put faith in the system," said Matricia Givner, "and again, the system is continuing to fail us."

CMHA is among the 21 local non-municipal departments that do not have body-worn cameras for officers, of the 35 local departments surveyed by News 5.

RELATED: Left in the Dark: Most non-municipal Northeast Ohio police departments do not provide body cameras

After the Attorney General's news conference Wednesday, CMHA police released the following statement:

"Yesterday, the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury met and decided not to bring any charges against a CMHA Police Officer. This decision does not change the tragic events that occurred on November 13, 2020 when a young man, Arthur Keith, lost his life. We continue to extend our sympathy to Mr. Keith’s family, friends, and the community.

"The CMHA Police Department has fully cooperated with the investigation, immediately turning over all evidence to the Cleveland Division of Police to make an objective decision based on the facts. Founded at the request of our residents who wanted officers dedicated to building relationships with the community, the CMHA Police Department has established a strong foundation of trust with our residents and partners. Yet, we know these tragic events have tested this trust, and it is our responsibility to renew the Community’s confidence by listening, learning, and working together as we move forward. We are committed to doing so.

"Given the conclusion of the investigation and proceedings, this matter will now be reviewed internally by a neutral outside party to ensure the Officer acted in accordance with CMHA’s constitutionally certified policies and procedures. Any video in CMHA’s possession that is connected with this incident will also be made available now that the investigation is complete."

CMHA Police Chief Andy Gonzalez said Griffiths will remain on paid administrative leave pending a department review to insure he acted within department guidelines.

Gonzalez said the review could take up to five months, and said he believes his officer gave and accurate account about what happened the the night incident took place.

"Our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Arthur Keith family," Gonzalez said. "I believe officer Griffiths, on the night he briefed me on this critical incident, was telling the truth. The officer was very remorseful; the officer was very concerned.”

"Naturally he’s second guessing himself, and that’s something we all do as human beings, regardless of if you’re a police officer or not,” Gonzalez said. “I do believe officer Griffiths informed me of the true facts as he understood them.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio and the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance issued the following joint statement on the decision not to charge the officer:

We are deeply disappointed in a grand jury’s decision not to charge a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer in the shooting death of Arthur Keith, a 19-year-old former Club member, and in the shocking lack of transparency shown by those involved in this case.

If, as the special counsel indicated, the grand jury felt officer James Griffiths “acted reasonably,” the secretiveness and lack of clarity surrounding Arthur’s death surely calls that assessment into question. Why wasn’t this officer – and all CMHA officers – wearing a body camera? Why has video footage not been released? Why were some cameras not functioning? Why weren’t more witnesses – including some whose accounts differ from the official version of events – interviewed? And how was it that Arthur was shot in the back, per an autopsy report?

We were among those asking questions. We got silence, ambiguity and unresponsiveness.

Young people like Arthur and communities like King Kennedy deserve better. Today, we are once again asking community leaders to work for the kind of sustainable change we need. We work every day to keep our kids safe and on the right path, and one aspect of that is gauging their level of trust in law enforcement. Trust, as you know, must be earned. This case certainly did not help build that trust, as those in charge appeared eager to keep us in the dark.

Our sympathy goes out to Arthur Keith’s family. We acknowledge and respect our legal system – and its limitations. Justice for Arthur Keith was not done.