No Charges For Cleveland Housing Police Officer Who Killed Arthur Keith

dave yost and anthony pierson
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Anthony Pierson, an attorney with the Special Prosecutions Section of the state attorney general's office, hele a July 7 press conference about police shooting investigations, including the Arthur Keith case. [Ohio Attorney Generals Office]

Updated: 4:56 p.m., Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A grand jury has declined to charge the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing police officer who shot and killed Arthur Keith in November 2020 at the King Kennedy housing complex on Cleveland’s East Side.

Anthony Pierson, from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Section, said Wednesday that CMHA police officer James Griffiths and other officers were responding to a call about a person with a gun at the public housing complex near East 55th Street and Woodland Avenue.

An officer, whom Pierson did not identify, opened the door of a black minivan where he saw someone moving. The officer told investigators he could see Keith had a gun.

“The officer gives commands for Arthur to drop the gun and get out of the vehicle,” Pierson said. “Mr. Keith gets out of the vehicle, turns toward the officer, and according to the officer, points the gun at him,” Pierson said.

Griffiths then fired four times, striking Keith once in the back.

Pierson said the gunshot wound to the back, near Keith's armpit, corroborates Griffith's statement and other evidence.

“Someone with a gun in their left hand, turn back and be shot and produce that wound, that wound is consistent with that trajectory as well as if someone had a gun in their right hand and was pointing it back, that wound would also be consistent,” he said.

Pierson said Keith was 15 to 20 feet away from Griffiths when he pointed the gun at the officer and about the same distance away when he was shot. A firearm was found near Keith after he continued running away a short distance before falling.

“The gun was retrieved and analyzed. Mr. Keith's DNA was on that weapon. It was on the trigger, the slide and the magazine,” Pierson said.

An eyewitness who lives at King Kennedy told Ideastream Public Media two days after the shooting that Keith got out of the minivan and began to run away when Griffiths shot him in the back. The eyewitness said he did not see a gun on Keith or near him when he fell. And according to Pierson, none of the eyewitnesses interviewed by investigators saw a gun on Keith.

The attorney general’s office did not answer a question from Ideastream Public Media about whether those eyewitnesses include the other officers at the scene.

The Cleveland Division of Police handled the investigation before turning over findings to the attorney general’s special prosecutions section. As part of that investigation, police body camera footage was reviewed, but Pierson said CMHA police do not have body cameras.

Until Wednesday’s announcement of the grand jury’s findings, both CMHA and Cleveland police refuse to release or say whether footage exists from at least one other surveillance camera, positioned directly above where the shooting occurred. Ideastream Public Media filed a lawsuit against the housing authority and the City of Cleveland March 7 in the 8th District Court of Appeals, after repeated requests for the video to CMHA and the Cleveland Division of Police. The case is still pending the 8th District Court of Appeals in Cleveland.

Shortly after the Wednesday press conference, CMHA released footage previously viewed by Ideastream Public Media during court-ordered mediation as part of the lawsuit. The 22-minute video does not show the shooting. It captures police vehicles as they approach the scene, witnesses either watching from a nearby parking or leaving the scene, and Keith running around a corner then falling to the ground after being shot. Finally, it shows Keith being taken away by paramedics.

Pierson said Wednesday it was the only camera footage obtained by investigators.

“As to the other cameras that were not operable, we've had multiple offices look at retrieving video and they were unsuccessful,” Pierson said, and he could not say how many other cameras were positioned to capture the shooting.

According to CMHA, the recorder that stores footage from surveillance cameras at King Kennedy sat in the complex’s administrative office for six days before Cleveland homicide detectives came and secured it as evidence.

There is no record of who accessed the recorder or pulled video off of it during that time, Pierson said.

Pierson would not say whether the grand jury heard witness testimony or simply reviewed their statements to police.

“My practice with respect to individuals who I have subpoenaed to testify at grand jury, if they do not appear, I do provide that statement that they've provided to law enforcement to the grand jury for the grand jury to evaluate,” he said.

Following the Wednesday announcement, a CMHA spokesperson issued a statement, the agency’s first since the weeks after the shooting.

“The CMHA Police Department has fully cooperated with the investigation, immediately turning over all evidence to the Cleveland Division of Police to make an objective decision based on the facts,” wrote spokesperson Cortney Crockett. “Yet, we know these tragic events have tested this trust, and it is our responsibility to renew the Community’s confidence by listening, learning, and working together as we move forward.  We are committed to doing so.”

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