A police officer in northeast Ohio fired through a wooden fence, killing a man who had been firing a gun in his yard just minutes after the start of the New Year, body-camera footage released this week shows.
The footage shows an officer firing through the fence at about 12:07 a.m. on Jan. 1, killing the man, later identified as James R. Williams, 46, of Canton, Ohio, a city of about 70,000 residents, about 60 miles south of Cleveland.
On the video, Mr. Williams appears to be obscured by the fence, which separates him from the officer. The sound of Mr. Williams firing repeated gunshots can be heard, and smoke can be seen rising into the air behind the fence as the officer approaches it with his gun drawn.
The officer fires repeatedly into the fence without saying anything. After he finishes shooting, he says, “Shots fired, shots fired,” and yells: “Police! Get down now! Police! Get down now!”
Mr. Williams’s widow, Marquetta Williams, told The Canton Repository that her husband had been firing her AR-15 rifle into the air to celebrate the New Year when the officer fatally shot him through the family’s six-foot wooden security fence. She said that other people in the neighborhood had also been firing into the air to celebrate the New Year.
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Ms. Williams said she had been standing a foot or two from her husband inside the back door of their home when he was shot.
“Out of the blue, he said he got shot, he got hit,” Ms. Williams told The Repository. “I don’t know where it came from. Nobody said anything. They didn’t say, ‘Police.’ They didn’t say, ‘Freeze.’ They didn’t say, ‘Drop your weapon.’ They just shot him.”
She said Mr. Williams had four daughters, ranging in age from 9 to 15, and two stepdaughters.
“He’s going to be dearly missed,” she told the paper. “He shouldn’t have died the way that he did. I just want justice for him.”
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation confirmed that it was investigating the shooting by the officer, whose name has not been released. The officer has been placed on leave, and evidence, including the body-camera footage and guns, has been turned over to the bureau, the Canton police said.
In a statement about the shooting on Jan. 1, the Canton police said that they had been investigating a “shots-fired incident” when an officer who was outside his vehicle “confronted a subject that began shooting a firearm.”
“The officer, in fear for his safety, fired his duty weapon at the subject and struck him,” the statement said. First aid was given, and the man was taken to a hospital, according to the statement, which offered no further details.
Just before the officer opens fire, the video records him saying that he saw a man’s head through the fence and heard shots. The officer says he then got out of his cruiser, went up to the porch and saw the man put a rifle away. Second later, repeated gunshots can be heard. The officer then draws his gun, approaches the fence and fires.
At a vigil outside the house on Wednesday evening, Sierra Mason, a community activist, accused the officer of “senselessly shooting” into the fence without knowing who was behind it.
“We should still be celebrating 2022,” Ms. Mason said. “But instead, we are mourning another Black man for doing the same thing white folks were doing. It makes me sick.”