CANTON – The Stark County NAACP is asking Canton officials to revisit Police Department policies and training following the fatal police shooting of James Williams.
In a news release issued Wednesday evening, the civil rights organization also requested that a representative take part in the Community Relations Commission. The commission reviews the Canton Police Department's internal affairs investigations, among other duties, and members are appointed by the mayor for two-year terms.
"For accountability purposes, this commission must further provide an actual written public report of the findings reached at the conclusion of their investigation," the release states.
The NAACP cites the "devastating death of husband and father James Williams" on Jan. 1 in its call for "transparency and justice from the Canton law enforcement community."
Williams, 46, was repeatedly firing an AR-15 into the air minutes after midnight on New Year's Day at his house on 10th Street SW. A Canton police officer who was investigating reports of gunfire in the area then shot Williams through a fence.
Williams later was pronounced dead at Aultman Hospital. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) is investigating the fatal shooting.
What the NAACP is saying about James Williams' death
NAACP President Hector McDaniel said the local organization would like the city to review its training practices and revisit its pledge to reform police use-of-force policies.
In the summer of 2020, city leaders and a representative of the NAACP worked to bring Canton into compliance with all "8 Can't Wait" policy standards promoted by Campaign Zero — a national police reform organization. The eight policies include requirements for officers to de-escalate a situation, use all alternatives before shooting and give a warning before shooting.
McDaniel said there should be more information shared with the public about Canton's adoption of "8 Can't Wait" policies and how they've been implemented.
"Where's the oversight that we are following those policies?" he said.
The NAACP had not yet contacted city officials regarding its requests but planned to reach out to the mayor and safety director and will be following the investigation into Williams' killing, McDaniel said.
Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei, in an emailed response to the news release, said the NAACP's requests are "reasonable and appropriate" and he has invited McDaniel to serve on the Community Relations Commission.
"Regarding the investigation and its transparency, the Canton Police Department has turned the entire investigation into the incident with James Williams over to the State of Ohio Attorney General David Yost’s office and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation," Bernabei said. "This is to ensure an outside, independent, professional and transparent review of the incident."
The BCI's fact-finding report will be given to Stark County Prosecutor Kyle Stone, who determines whether to file criminal charges and submit the case to a grand jury.
An internal investigation will occur after the BCI case is concluded, so as not to interfere with the criminal investigation, Police Chief Jack Angelo previously told The Canton Repository.
"The internal investigation won't begin until after the grand jury hears the case," he said.
Canton and its '8 Can't Wait policy'
The internal investigation will determine any internal discipline and whether department policies were followed. Angelo said he didn't think the Jan. 1 shooting violated "8 Can't Wait" policies, citing a "when feasible" exception to some requirements, but couldn't definitively say without reviewing them.
The officer's name has not been publicly released, and because they are considered an uncharged suspect, it is not public record.
"Regarding training, the Canton Police Department has adopted and trains to the standards of Campaign Zero – '8 Can’t Wait,'" Bernabei stated.
The mayor said the department always has required a minimum of 40 hours of in-service training, regardless of Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy mandates, and invested in new software last year to better track information about uses of force.
"The Department continually reviews its policies and training and will redouble its efforts in the light of the shooting of James Williams on January 1," he said.
Bernabei said the department "stands firmly committed to the 8 Can’t Wait policies" and reiterated the state attorney general's request to reserve judgement until "all the facts are in."
"My prayers go out to the family of Mr. Williams," he concluded. "This is heartbreaking loss of a husband and father and friend."
This article originally appeared on The Repository: NAACP asks Canton to review police policy after James Williams' death