King Kennedy Residents Question Early Official Version Of Police Shooting
Updated: 1:17 p.m., Friday, Nov. 20, 2020
Cleveland Police are investigating the Friday shooting of a 19-year-old man by a Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority Police officer at the King Kennedy public housing development on the city’s East Side.
Residents watching police investigate the scene were upset about the circumstances surrounding the shooting. The officer involved in the shooting said the teen pointed a gun at him and a gun was recovered at the scene. Residents don't believe it. Tensions were running high enough that City Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland sent staff members to help deescalate.
That night passed without additional incident, but a few dozen people gathered Sunday at the site of the shooting, with King Kennedy residents joining community activists and family members of Arthur Keith, the man who was killed.
The story of what happened to Keith that has already taken hold in the neighborhood is very different from what housing authority police said happened.
Richard Starr, Scott Hawkins and Jahzir Melton (left to right, facing the camera) speaking with community activists at the site of Friday's shooting. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
Jahzir Melton lives in the apartment between the parking lot where the encounter between Keith and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CHMA) officers started and the patch of lawn where Keith fell after being shot.
Melton told ideastream he first saw three police cars pull up to a black van parked in the lot at about 5 p.m. An officer went to the passenger door of the van and opened it. A man who was inside the van tried to run away.
“Before that, I didn’t know no one was in the car, until he opened up the door and tried to run.” Melton said.
Melton posed like a running man – frozen in place, with his upper body leaning forward, one arm at his side, bent at the elbow, the opposite leg lifting at the knee. Keith looked like that when the officer started shooting, Melton said.
“And then I run in the house and I closed the door again,” he said.
Melton said he did not see a gun on Keith, but he said he didn't see everything that happened.
“I let everybody know what just happened then we come back outside. He laying on the ground not moving, you can see the foam coming out of his mouth, with his hands cuffed,” Melton said.
Melton gave a statement to investigators on the night of the shooting.
According to a statement provided by Cleveland Division of Police, based on its preliminary investigation, CMHA police approached the van because they suspected the vehicle had been used in a shooting the day before.
According to the official statement, a CMHA officer ordered Keith out of the van. Keith pointed a gun at the officer.
“Shots were fired by the officer and the suspect male fled. After a short time, he collapsed. Officers then secured a firearm from the suspect,” according to police.
The investigation is ongoing. But by Sunday, people at King Kennedy believed a cover-up was underway.
“They know they wrong. Justice must be served for Arthur,” said Richard Starr, director of the Boys and Girls Clubs at King Kennedy and East Tech, who knew Keith when he was younger.
Starr went to the site of the shooting Friday to find out what happened. That’s when he heard a version of Melton’s account.
“Arthur did not deserve to get shot in his back and get gunned down in the same neighborhood he grew up in, his whole entire family. That is not right,” said Starr.
The story Starr heard Friday from officials at the scene didn’t make sense to him – the version in which, when the police officer came up to the van and opened the door, Keith was sitting inside with a gun, waiting, and there was a standoff.
“Arthur, I knew Arthur since he was 6 years old,” Starr said. “Arthur, no, he’s a thinking man. He’s a thinking young boy. He’s one of them: ‘No, you ain’t about to get me.’ So he’s taking off running.”
A CMHA camera attached to the corner of the building would capture both the parking lot (not pictured to the right) and the lawn where Arthur Keith fell. An investigation into whether that camera captured footage of the shooting is ongoing. [Matthew Richmond / ideastream]
CMHA officers do not wear body cameras but a CMHA camera is perched on the corner of the building, overlooking where the incident started and where Keith died. CMHA officials said Monday there is an ongoing investigation into whether there is any footage captured by the camera.
Keith’s stepfather, Scott Hawkins, Sr., heard what happened from Keith’s sister right after the shooting. Hawkins described his son as a smart kid who wanted to be a judge one day.
“You know, we all fall off track,” Hawkins said. “I just had to get him focused. He wasn’t a bad kid, he was a good kid. These streets beat us up more than we beat ourselves up.”
Hawkins was at King Kennedy two days after his son’s death, hoping to find some answer. He doesn’t believe that his son pulled a gun on a police officer. Investigators had not yet contacted him.
A search of Cuyahoga County court records found no criminal record for Keith.
Once the Cleveland Division of Police investigation is complete, the matter will be handed over to a special prosecutor to consider bringing criminal charges against the officer.
CMHA has not released the name of the officer who shot Keith, but did say the individual is on paid administrative leave.
In an earlier version of this story, Scott Hawkins, Sr. identified himself as Arthur Keith's father. Keith's family refers to Hawkins as a stepfather.