By Ed Runyan
A Trumbull County grand jury found no wrongdoing by Patrolman Michael Krafcik when he shot Taemarr Walker to death on Risher Road Southwest on Oct. 19, 2013.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins released a statement Thursday saying Krafcik acted in self-defense, but the woman in the car with Walker is being charged with involuntary manslaughter and a firearms offense.
Watkins said the investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation showed that Krafcik’s actions were “a textbook example of self- defense by an officer responding to an armed criminal who brazenly failed to comply with the simple command of placing his hands up and not to move.”
Walker, 24, of Kenwood Drive Southwest, was shot to death in the 1:18 a.m. confrontation with Krafcik after the car Walker was driving crashed into a ditch on Risher.
Krafcik was on Risher because another car was in the ditch on the opposite side of the road, and Krafcik had responded while a tow-truck driver attempted to remove the abandoned vehicle.
Walker, who was with Regan Jelks, 21, of Woodbine Avenue, apparently had gone into the ditch trying to avoid the tow truck. Jelks later was shown on a dashcam video from another police officer’s cruiser being led away from Walker’s vehicle. She repeatedly wailed, “Please don’t kill me!” as a sergeant and a tow-truck driver walked her from the scene.
According to the prosecutor’s statement, when Krafcik approached Walker after Walker’s car went in the ditch, he could see an assault rifle on the back seat and saw Walker move from the driver’s seat to the back seat.
Krafcik drew his service revolver and demanded that Walker show his hands, which Walker initially did. He told Walker “if he touched the rifle, he would be shot,” the statement said. Walker then kicked the passenger door in an attempt to get out. Krafcik kept Walker inside by leaning against the door.
“Walker then lunged from the back seat to the front seat and reached under the driver’s seat,” the statement says. “The officer continued to warn him to remain still and show his hands.
“Walker then pulled out a handgun from underneath the driver’s side seat while his feet were still in the back-seat portion of the vehicle. Officer Krafcik, who had moved from the rear passenger window to the front passenger window immediately shot into the car striking Walker,” the statement continues.
Krafcik fired four more times, hitting Walker each time. Walker still had the gun in his hand when the first backup officer arrived. Walker was wearing latex gloves.
Walker had alcohol and a variety of drugs in his system, and the rifle had 27 rounds of ammunition in it, though the handgun contained no ammunition, the statement said.
Jelks, the owner of the car, was arrested in Detroit and will be returned to Warren to face charges as soon as possible, the statement said. If convicted, she could get more than 10 years in prison.
Thomas Conley, president of the Greater Warren Youngstown Urban League, after reading Watkins’ eight-page statement, said it appeared that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation had conducted a thorough investigation.
He said he was “struck” by the details in the prosecutor’s statement regarding the possibility that Walker and Jelks were on their way to the II Hype Lounge on Mahoning Avenue near Summit Street to “shoot the bar up.”
The statement didn’t say what event would have caused Walker to open fire there, but it indicated that Jelks had been there earlier that evening.
“Prior to the shooting of Taemarr Walker, off-duty police officer Frank Tempesta was working a side job at II Hype Lounge when one of the patrons notified a barmaid that Taemarr Walker was coming to shoot up the bar,” the statement said.
As a result, the bar closed early.
“It was only minutes later that Officer Krafcik encountered Taemarr Walker in a motor vehicle wearing latex gloves and with two firearms, one of which was a loaded assault rifle in the ‘fire’ position,” the statement said.
“It probably avoided a tragedy happening at the nightclub,” Conley said of the shooting on Risher.
Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel said Walker’s death “was certainly a tragedy, not only for the deceased, but for the officer, their families and the community.”
Merkel said a police officer “has the right to go home safely to his family after his shift. And when that right is jeopardized by someone who is willing to pull a firearm on the police, the use of deadly force and the outcome from this tragedy is always a possibility.”
Krafcik was on paid administrative leave for three weeks after the shooting. When he returned to work, he was assigned to the evidence cage, receiving and cataloging evidence. He will get additional training and is likely to remain in that position indefinitely, Merkel said.
The statement noted that the .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle had been stolen from a residence on Bane Street in Warren Township the previous June. Warren Township police later identified Walker as one of the two men on surveillance video in the home who stole the rifle and other items, the statement said.
The tow-truck driver’s statements confirmed Krafcik’s account of what happened before and after Krafcik fired at Walker, including the officer shouting at Walker 15 to 20 times to put up his hands and not move, the statement said.