CANTON, Ohio – Family members and supporters of James Williams gathered in front of the Canton Police Department Saturday in protest of the officer who shot and killed him on New Years Day.
At around 12:06 a.m. on January 1, Williams was repeatedly firing an AR-15 into the air to celebrate the new year when he was shot by a yet-to-be-identified Canton police officer who was in the area investigating a call for shots fired.
In the officer’s body camera footage, he can be heard radioing his location outside the 10th Street home and advising dispatch that he heard shots fired. He tells dispatch that he saw a man’s head — later identified as Williams — behind a 6-foot high wooden fence. He said when he approached the porch he saw the man put away a rifle.
Moments later, while the officer is still at the front of the house, nearly 30 shots can be heard being fired in rapid succession. The officer runs to the side of the house, where the shots were being fired from behind a wooden fence. In the video, muzzle flashes and smoke can be seen coming from the gun’s barrel aimed at the sky.
The officer fires at least four times into the fence, striking Williams.
The officer yells, “Shots fired! Shots fired!”
Then louder, he yells: “Police! Get down now! Police! Get down now!”
The officer backs into the street, takes cover behind his vehicle and yells into his radio, “CanCom! Shots fired. Send us everybody!”
More officers arrive within minutes and the family is ordered out of their home.
Williams’ wife, Marquetta Williams, tells officers that her husband has been shot and he was bleeding in the living room.
The officers enter the home, guns drawn, and find Williams on the floor. An officer discovers multiple firearms and another officer finds body armor behind a couch, the footage showed.
Williams is taken to Aultman Hospital, where he later dies.
“I want justice for my husband and I want this officer terminated. We need his badge. This is not going underneath the rug,” Marquetta Williams said.
Marquetta said the gunfire was an annual tradition in their neighborhood, with many neighbors also firing shots.
She also said James was behind a 6ft fence, adding: “You can’t see in. You can’t see out.”
Joseph Gourrier, the attorney representing the Williams family, said he is in the process of trying to retain information and records from public officials. He also said that Williams “did not commit a crime that night by firing his weapon into the air because that’s legal here in the state of Ohio.”
State Attorney General Dave Yost previously told The Canton Repository that it was a crime.
In an interview with The Canton Repository, Yost called Williams’ action that night, “stupid and extraordinarily dangerous.”
“When the bullet leaves the gun and goes up into the air, it’s going to hit something. Maybe it’s going to hit a roof or the ground. Maybe it’s going to hit someone in the head and kill somebody,” Yost said.
He said the footage does raise questions regarding the circumstance of the shooting but asked people to reserve judgment until more facts are gathered.
“Regardless of whether this was legally proper or not, any death is a tragedy and I can’t even imagine the grief and sorrow for this man’s family,” Yost said. “My heart goes out to them.”
The officer who shot Williams has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation being conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at the request of the Canton Police Department.
Police have declined to comment but said in an initial news release that the officer feared for his safety.