CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office released a trove of reports, videos and other evidence in the police shooting death of 19-year-old Arthur Keith.
Among the hundreds of pages of documents and hours of video footage is evidence that seems to contradict a claim from a Keith family attorney that law enforcement did not reach out to a potentially crucial witness to the Nov. 13 shooting outside the King Kennedy public housing complex.
The 15-year-old boy who witnessed the fatal shooting by Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority officer James Griffiths spoke with investigators at the shooting scene, despite claims by attorney Stanley Jackson who said in the days and weeks after the shooting that police never interviewed the boy.
The files released Thursday show Cleveland Police Det. Stephanie Hunter interviewed the 15-year-old boy, Jahzir Melton, at the scene.
The teen’s interview became a point of contention the day the Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to bring charges against Griffiths.
Keith family attorney Stanley Jackson called for a federal investigation into the shooting later that day and said Cleveland police, who conducted the investigation, failed to interview three witnesses. Jackson only gave Melton’s name.
Melton had previously told Jackson that he was never interviewed by police and the interview with Det. Hunter at the scene was not a formal interview.
“In an interview, they will call you in, ask several questions, and in some cases, do a follow-up interview,” Jackson said in an interview Thursday. “This proves that they knew Jahzir existed, which means they didn’t thoroughly read their own report.”
Jackson also said that he would like to see the interview on camera, the way police conduct most interviews. Jackson wasn’t at the scene of the shooting on Nov. 13, 2020.
Jackson also said he reached out to investigators several times to tell them about potential witnesses but did not hear back. He said he also passed the same information along to Assistant Attorney General Anthony Pierson.
Cleveland police and the attorney general’s office disputed Jackson’s account, saying investigators tried to reach Jackson several times to see if additional witnesses came forward and contact information for known witnesses.
The documents released on Thursday show Melton gave an interview to the detective and that attempts by officers to contact witnesses that spoke with Jackson went largely unanswered.
In her report the day of the shooting, Hunter wrote that she walked up to a group standing in front of one of the buildings in the King Kennedy apartment complex near where Griffiths shot Keith.
She asked if anyone saw what happened. Melton told Hunter, “I saw everything,” according to the police files.
Jackson said if Melton told police that he saw everything, he should’ve testified before the grand jury before they made the decision not to hold Griffiths accountable for shooting Keith.
“He should have been subpoenaed by the grand jury if he told police he saw everything,” Jackson stated. “Griffiths was the only witness, so you will only get one side of the story.”
Melton said he was taking out the trash when he saw three police cars pull into the parking lot. When he was walking back from the Dumpster, he saw Keith get out of his car and tried to run, according to Det. Hunter’s police report. He told Hunter the officers shot him two times and that Keith ran by his apartment and around the corner.
The police records also say on March 4, after cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer published details of Keith’s autopsy, Jackson held a virtual news conference in which Jackson said: “we’ve been able to confirm from what witnesses have also said that Mr. Keith was shot from behind.”
Cleveland police Sgt. Aaron Reese wrote in a report he called Jackson’s law firm and left a message with a receptionist. The next day, Jackson called back and said either he or private investigator Brenda Bickerstaff would provide a list of witnesses.
The two talked about other things related to the case, including if Jackson would be allowed to view surveillance video, which had not been made public at the time. Reese wrote in his report that he’d ask Pierson.
There’s no other notes or documentation in the file showing that Jackson ever sent in the witness list, but Cleveland police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia previously said he never provided it.
An Ohio Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman also previously said that special prosecutors asked Jackson in June if they could interview any other witnesses before prosecutors presented the case to the grand jury and that her office never received a response.
Jackson dismisses the claim that he didn’t provide the Attorney General’s office with witnesses and accuses the administration of a poorly run investigation.
“It’s not our responsibility to track down witnesses, but we care about this community and the families who live here,” Jackson said.
According to the attorney, there were many errors in the investigation. The Attorney General’s office failed to secure witnesses or follow up for statements. They didn’t connect with Jackson to arrange a meeting, and Jackson is concerned about the chain of custody of the released surveillance videos.
Pierson previously said investigators determined that Griffiths fatally shot Keith after Keith pointed a gun at him in the parking lot of the housing complex. Officers went to the scene to investigate a report of a stolen van, according to the police files.
Griffiths opened the van door and saw Keith inside with a gun, according to the files. The officers reported Keith got out of the van, ran and pointed a gun at Griffiths.
Griffiths fired four shots at Keith from about 20 feet away, hitting him once in the upper back portion of his left side, under his armpit.