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Q&A: Critical Look At The Investigation Of Arthur Keith Shooting By Police

Arthur Keith's mother (second from right) Rita Keith is joined by family attorney Stanley Jackson (center) and other supporters outside CMHA Police headquarters, calling for an independent investigation two weeks after Keith's death. [Matthew Richmond / Ideastream Public Media]
Arthur Keith's mother (second from right) Rita Keith is joined by family attorney Stanley Jackson (center) and other supporters outside CMHA Police headquarters

For close to nine months, Ideastream Public Media has been following the story of the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Arthur Keith by a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer.

Recently, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced there won’t be any criminal charges against the officer, James Griffiths. And shortly after, Yost released the investigative file.

Ideastream Public Media’s Matt Richmond combed through the files about Keith’s November 13 death, and he joined All Things Considered Host Glenn Forbes to discuss what’s in there.

What is included in this file that Attorney General Yost released?

There is a lot. They put hundreds of pages of documents, interviews with the officers who were there, including Griffiths, there’s some new surveillance footage that we received from CMHA cameras that we had been seeking through a lawsuit against CMHA and Cleveland Division of Police.

With all that, do we now have a better idea about the events leading up to Keith’s death?

There’s a lot of details that have been filled in now.

We know there were three CMHA cars that were responding to a call about a suspicious van, and somebody was suspected to have a gun inside. And it was Griffiths in one car. Another patrol officer by the name of Robert Lenz in another. And a third with a sergeant named Paul Styles.

 And Griffiths and Styles approached it, Griffiths from the passenger side, Styles from the driver side. Griffiths opened the front passenger door, sort of stuck his head in, and he said he saw a gun in Keith's left hand.

Then Keith opens the sliding door, gets out, starts to run and, according to Griffiths, Keith turned back and pointed a gun at him as he was running away and that’s when Griffiths shot three times, killing Keith.

There’s been some questions about the nature of the threat that Griffiths faced before shooting Keith. Has that question been cleared up?

It appears that Griffiths’ story was enough to clear him of charges when he went in front of the grand jury.

The other two officers who were there – Styles, who was on the other side of the van when Keith was shot and Lenz who said he was a couple cars away in the parking lot, on his way toward the van – neither of them said they saw a gun in Keith’s hand or that they saw him raise it at Griffiths.

Styles said that he heard Griffiths say, “Gun.”

This happened at around 4:30 in the afternoon at a parking lot at King Kennedy where a lot of people live and so there were several witnesses. And the witnesses who they interviewed, and Cleveland police did go and canvass for witnesses, and all of those witnesses also said they did not see a gun in Keith’s hand.

Sgt. Styles did say in his interview with Cleveland police that when he got to Keith, after Keith had fallen, that he saw a handgun a couple inches away from Keith’s right hand.

So you’ve been talking about the Cleveland police investigation of this case, are there issues with the investigation based on what you’ve seen and heard?

Watching the interview that Cleveland police did with Griffiths and the two officers who were also on the scene when Keith was killed, there are questions they asked all of them - Were you in uniform? Were you driving a marked car? Was there any reason why Keith wouldn’t have known you were a police officer when you encountered him in that van? - which sort of indicated they were collecting evidence to clear them of the shooting.

They didn’t ask Sgt. Styles, the officer who was closest to Griffiths when Keith was shot, they didn’t even ask him what he saw when Keith got out of the van. They didn’t ask him if he saw him holding a gun at that moment. They didn’t ask him if he saw him point the gun at Griffiths.

And so that seemed like a glaring omission.

A lot of times, it comes down to video footage, but it seems like there was a lack of video footage in the Arthur Keith case.

There are quite a few surveillance cameras around King Kennedy.

There was one that was pointed right at the parking lot where the shooting occurred. That camera was capturing video on November 9. But for November 13 they found there was no video available.

There was only one witness that they interviewed that saw Keith carrying a gun when he was shot and said he pointed it at Officer Griffiths and that was Officer Griffiths. Everybody else who was there did not see that.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.