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Attorney for 15-year-old shot by police, Akron community groups call for justice and accountability

Imokhai Okolo, a 27-year-old Black lawyer, addresses Akron City Council.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Attorney Imokhai Okolo addresses city councilmembers and residents in council chambers on Feb. 27, 2023. Dozens of residents packed the chambers to call for approval of Okolo's nomination to the Akron civilian police oversight board.

Community organizations and the legal team representing the 15-year-old teen shot by an Akron police officer last week are demanding justice and accountability after the city released bodycam footage of the shooting Monday.

Freedom BLOC, an Akron-based community organizing group, has called for the officer, Ryan Westlake, to be fired.

“While we appreciate the transparency of this new administration by releasing both the body camera footage and also the officer’s personnel file, transparency is only the first step in a long road to justice. Officer Ryan Westlake needs to be terminated immediately,” the group said in a Tuesday press release.

Westlake, a nine-year department veteran, is currently on paid administrative leave, per department protocol.

Imokhai Okolo, an Akron civil rights attorney once denied a seat on the city’s police oversight board, will represent the teen, his law firm announced Monday.

“The video released today by the City of Akron speaks for itself,” Okolo said in the Monday release. “(The teen) now finds himself in the lineage of Black youth being profiled and shot by the Akron Police Department with absolutely no justification or regard for human life.”

Ideastream Public Media has not named the teen to protect his privacy. He has not been charged with a crime.

The bodycam footage shows Westlake arrive at Newton Street and Tonawanda Avenue in the Goodyear Heights neighborhood shortly after 7 p.m. in response to a call of a suspicious person on April 1. No sound from his siren is audible on the recording as Westlake stops the car and starts to get out.

“Where are you coming from?” Westlake is heard saying to an unseen person on the sidewalk. “Can I see your hands real quick?”

Westlake fired a shot immediately after asking to see the person's hands and before getting all the way out of his patrol car.

A gun, which police now say was a replica, can be seen lying on the tree lawn between Westlake and the juvenile, who is Black.

Westlake showed a “lack of humanity” to the teen, Okolo said in the release.

“How is it that a 15-year-old child could be gunned down just a block from his grandmother’s home while his hands were up doing exactly what the police officer asked him to do? What could possibly justify the inhumane treatment of a child?” Okolo said.

Okolo, the teen’s family and community leaders will hold a press conference later this week to call for justice and seek answers, he added.

“Mayor Malik and Acting Chief Harding have the power to do the right thing here, to live up to their promises for safety and “systemic change,” Okolo said in the release. “They could act now and send a message to the department that Black youth in this city deserve to be treated with humanity, but instead, they have chosen to pass the buck and hide behind “process” designed to thwart accountability and ensure little political backlash.”

Westlake's personnel file shows he was nearly fired in 2021 after, among other misconduct violations, he "muzzled" his girlfriend with a gun. He was later reinstated by the department and served a 71-day suspension.

Freedom BLOC called Westlake “unfit” to patrol underserved communities.

“We watch the police de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people, particularly white children, every day,” Freedom Bloc's Executive Director Ray Greene Jr. said in the news release. “I know, hang with, and struggle with white folks that police hate — yet those white folks don’t fear for their lives like I do and most all Black people globally when it comes to interactions with the police.”

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting. After BCI concludes its investigation, the materials will be presented to a Summit County grand jury to decide whether to charge the officer with a crime.

The Akron Police Department will also conduct an internal investigation to evaluate whether policies were followed. Akron's police auditor will also review the investigation.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.