Springfield Township Police Sgt. Eric East was investigating an early morning theft from a Lakemore store last year when he repeatedly ordered the driver of a van to open his door.
The driver, parked in a stranger’s driveway, at first pretended to be asleep, but he glanced at the officer and refused to unlock the door even as East slid a Slim Jim unlocking tool between the van window and door to open it himself, East’s body camera footage shows, along with an investigative report.
“Do not start this van,” East warned the driver just before he turned the key.
“Don’t shoot him, don’t shoot him,” East cautioned fellow officers as the engine revved.
Then, moments later, the van raced backward in the dark, smashing into a parked police cruiser.
Two other officers — Ezekiel Ryan of Lakemore police and Kristofer London of Springfield Township Police — each fired three shots, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.
Bullets struck both Christian Beard, 22, the driver, and Matthew Burghardt, 31, the passenger.
It isn't clear from the lawsuit whether Beard or Burghardt were charged with the store theft. Beard is currently serving a 2½-year prison sentence for felony burglary and drug possession convictions from last year.
Police body camera video of the incident can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2SMFPZM. Parts of the video contain footage that some viewers might consider graphic.
The Ohio Attorney General and the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation investigated. And after reviewing their findings, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh last year determined the shootings and use of deadly force were justified.
But Burghardt’s guardian filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Ryan and London, claiming the officers who fired the shots violated Burghardt’s rights, operated recklessly and assaulted Burghardt.
The shooting happened last year in February 2018 after an employee working at Tractor Supply Co. store in the Tri-County Plaza called police to report an attempted heist.
The store hadn’t opened. It was 4:46 a.m., but she heard an alarm and saw someone trying to lift a log splitter and other items into a van, which then headed toward the rear of the plaza.
Lakemore police responded, and Springfield police provided backup.
They found a van that matched the description parked in a residential driveway on South Main Street just behind the plaza. When officers approached, Beard and Burghardt were reclined in the driver and passenger seats with their eyes closed with their doors locked, the prosecutor’s investigation report said.
Officers knocked on the windows and repeatedly told Beard and Burghardt to open the doors. Beard eventually sat up, but he refused police orders and eventually rammed the van into a parked police cruiser hard enough to move it more than three feet, the report said.
When police fired their guns, Beard was hit in the left arm, left hand and right side of the neck. Burghardt was hit in the head and right arm.
The lawsuit on Burghardt’s behalf said he had several surgeries following the shooting, including one to put a steel plate in his head to replace parts of his skull. The shooting left Burghardt blind and with the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, the lawsuit said.
His cognitive ability is not expected to improve, the lawsuit said, and Burghardt requires round-the-clock care and support from his family.
The civil lawsuit doesn’t specify how much Burghardt wants from the officers — who could not be reached Tuesday — but it seeks both compensatory damages for the injuries and punitive damages to deter similar shootings in the future.
Investigators did not interview Burghardt after the shooting because of his medical condition, the prosecutor’s report said.
They did talk, however to Beard, who denied being at the Tractor Supply store and said he and Burghardt were parked in the driveway that morning because “of being stupid, smoking too much meth (methamphetamine) and getting stuck in the car,” the prosecutor’s report said.
“I’m like, I don’t want to go back to prison, man,” Beard told investigators. “And I started the car, and I try to take off, but as soon as I back up, I felt the life go out of me.”