AKRON, Ohio — Dozens of signatures follow a letter from Akron religious and community leaders to police chief Steve Mylett, expressing disappointment in the department for letting the eight officers who fatally shot Jayland Walker resume duty.
On October 11, the Akron Police Department announced that the eight still-unnamed officers would be allowed to return to work in an administrative capacity due to a shortage of officers in the department.
Ten days later, a letter from more than 40 of the city's faith leaders and the activist group Freedom BLOC was written to Mylett and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan express their objection to the decision.
"Whatever staffing crisis there may be, it cannot be more challenging than would be the erosion of any trust remaining between the community and police. Those under investigation for committing crimes cannot be in any proximity to a workplace where their crimes are under investigation. There is no workplace that would tolerate such an arrangement," the letter stated.
"I felt like we were disrespected when I say we, I mean the Black community, Jayland Walker's Family and victims who have been mistreated by the police," said Rev. Raymond Green Jr, executive director of Freedom BLOC.
When the officers were reinstated, Akron police said community leaders and stakeholders were involved in the conversation. 3News was told at least two community leaders were talked to about the decision, but these faith leaders are saying they weren't included and feel misled by Mylett.
"The grassroot leaders, the pastors, the communities of this city are sticking together and it's time for the administration to come on to our side or be removed and this is the message we're sending," Green added.
Case Western Reserve University policing expert Dan Flannery says as departments are seeing short staffing, this isn't uncommon. But it's never a decision where you're going to get complete community support because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"It is a relatively common practice for officers to return back to the workplace on administrative desk duty," Flannery told 3News.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mylett released a letter in response, saying he was disappointed and confused by the Freedom BLOC letter. He goes on to say he feels the letter from the clergy is dishonest because 90% of them weren't involved in the advisory councils he worked with in making the decision to bring back the officers.
"I pride myself on being a man of integrity," Mylett wrote. "Having my integrity questioned by those I've come to know and trust is beyond hurtful."
Also on Tuesday, Bobby DiCello and Kenneth Abbarno, the legal team representing the Walker family wrote the following statement in response to the letter sent by Akron's community leaders to Mylett:
"The family of Jayland Walker and the Walker family legal team expresses its thanks and wholehearted support for a letter sent this week by 43 Akron faith and community leaders to Chief of Police, Steve Mylett, condemning the reinstatement of the eight officers currently under investigation for the June shooting and killing of Jayland Walker.
Chief Mylett’s justification of his decision that a department staffing shortage makes their reinstatement necessary is disrespectful to the community and the Walker family, not to mention terribly short-sighted. It is the very definition of hypocrisy for Chief Mylett to claim, as he has previously, that his department is working hard to build trust among Akron’s minority communities, and then make a callous decision like this that fosters further distrust of the Akron Police Department among this population, while jeopardizing the legitimacy of BCI’s investigation.
The Walker family has been told repeatedly to be peaceful, allow the investigation of the eight officers to take place, and believe in the process. And while they have done that, the Chief has decided to reinstate the officers who killed Jayland and has, tragically, misrepresented the feedback he received from local clergy before taking that step."
But for Rev. Green, it's not just that the officers are back, it's that he feels the department wasn't transparent about the process.
The shooting of Jayland Walker happened in the overnight hours of June 27 amid a chase. Police say Walker had fired a shot at one point during the vehicle pursuit, but was unarmed at the time officers opened fire when the chase was continued on foot. A gun was later found in Walker's vehicle, according to police.
The Summit County Medical Examiner determined that there were 46 graze/entrance wounds to Walker's body. The toxicology screening was negative for drugs and alcohol. Roughly 90 shots were fired by the officers.
The personnel files of the officers, which were heavily redacted, were obtained by 3News after a public records request in July. Four of the eight officers have military backgrounds, while three have Bachelor's degrees. None of the eight officers had previously faced work-related discipline.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations is continuing their review of the incident. Once the BCI's investigation is complete, the case will be submitted to the Summit County Grand Jury for evaluation.
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