NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio — Activists and the family of a man killed by North Royalton police are rekindling their pursuit of justice. Jun Wang’s family believes the 2016 death was preventable.
Saturday, the Jun Wang Foundation hosted a rally in his honor, marching to the North Royalton Police Department from a nearby park. The group was joined by community members, several activist groups, as well Samaria Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was fatally shot by Cleveland Police in 2014.
“We understand how the corruption in Cuyahoga County is so real,” Rice yelled through a megaphone during the rally.
The group called for increased transparency from prosecutors and North Royalton police, and criminal charges for the officers involved in Wang’s killing.
“All we’re demanding is greater accountability, greater transparency and respect for human life,” said Swetha Kareti, an organizer with the Jun Wang Foundation.
Elaine Schleiffer, an organizer for Responding with Empathy, Access and Community Healing (REACH) added, “Not only do we need justice for taking our dear beloved brother away, but we need justice for all of his due process that’s happened since.”
In October 2016, Wang’s sister Julia Rielinger filed a request with the Cuyahoga County Probate Court, ordering her brother to receive emergency treatment for his mental illness. Rielinger explained Wang, a 45-year-old Chinese immigrant with limited English skills, had suffered from schizophrenia since he was 16 and living in China.
She delivered the probate order to the North Royalton Police Department, which sent two officers to serve the order to Wang at Rielinger’s Independence Drive condo. The order indicated he was suffering from a severe mental health crisis.
The family’s attorney claims the responding officers defied their duty to respond with medical assistance on hand and says they ignored their training when they entered the home and yelled commands at Wang, despite his sister’s request to go in first and facilitate the encounter.
During an ensuing confrontation and struggle, investigators said Wang slashed one officer’s face and stabbed him in the leg with a steak knife as he attempted to handcuff the man. The other officer fired several fatal rounds at Wang. Dispatch reports indicate EMS did not arrive until more than a half-hour after the shooting.
“They did the exact opposite of what they were trained to do,” the attorney said in a statement. “Not only were they reckless in failing to wait for EMT personnel to arrive on the scene before chasing after Jun Wang with their guns, they also failed to make use of available tools like protective gear or tasers that would have allowed them to easily take Jun Wang safely into custody.”
According to a report from Northeast Ohio Medical University, Ohio law enforcement officers have been required to take a 16-hour crisis intervention training course through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) since 2007. The program trains officers to identify mental health crises and respond with de-escalation methods, rather than traditional “command and control” tactics. The Ohio Attorney General’s informational video also warns confrontations could lead to legal issues, citing federal court rulings requiring officers to weigh a person’s diminished mental capacity before using reasonable force to gain patrol.
“We can see how each decision went wrong and it’s consequential, tragically consequential,” said Nozomi Ikuta, a pastor from Denison Avenue United Church of Christ.
The pastor spoke during the Saturday rally, explaining her church’s mission to encounter others, like Wang, experiencing mental health crises.
“A lot of people that we see every day have struggled with mental health problems, have struggled with traumas. And so we identified with the story pretty deeply,” she said. “They were just trying to get help for him.”
Neither officer faced criminal charges for Wang’s death. At the rally, activists called for Cuyahoga County prosecutors to revisit the case.
They also said Wang’s death is part of a larger call for police reform and improved community policing. They hope communities like North Royalton will follow Cleveland’s example of the successful Issue 24 campaign to implement a civilian oversight committee. Additionally, they believe mental health crises should be handled differently.
“There is a better future we can create for ourselves in which people with compassion and empathy and training and the right temperament are put in these situations to handle individuals who are in crisis,” said Josiah Quarles, an activist with Black Spring Cleveland.
Rielinger attended the rally in honor of her brother Saturday but was advised not to speak publicly about the case because of a pending civil lawsuit. The family is suing the city of North Royalton and the North Royalton Police Department, claiming the death was preventable and the case was mishandled.
North Royalton Police issued the following statement after the rally:
“The North Royalton Police Department supports every American’s right to exercise their first amendment rights in a peaceable manner. As this matter is still the subject of civil litigation, we will have no further comment on the advice of the city of North Royalton law department.”
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