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Akron Police fires officer who shot 15-year-old; prosecutors drop charge against the teen

Tavion Koonce-Williams (second from left) and his family members wait to speak at a press conference in Akron on April 12, 2024. From L to R: James Koonce, his father; Angel Williams, his mother, and Dominique Mingo, his aunt.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Tavion Koonce-Williams (second from left) and his family members wait to speak at a press conference in Akron April 12, 2024. From L to R: James Koonce, his father; Angel Williams, his mother; and Dominique Mingo, his aunt.

The Akron Police Department has fired the officer who shot and injured an Akron teen last month, according to a news release.

The news came just hours after the Summit County Prosecutor's office announced prosecutors were dropping the charge against the teen for carrying a fake gun the night he was shot.

On April 1, Officer Ryan Westlake fired a single shot at Tavion Koonce-Williams, a sophomore at East Community Learning Center, after police received a call that a Black male was pointing a gun at houses.

Body camera footage shows Westlake asking an unseen person on the sidewalk to show him their hands and before getting all the way out of the car. The shot injured Koonce-Williams' hand. Police recovered the fake gun he was carrying. Akron Police charged the teen with facsimile firearm on April 19.

Westlake was not fired for this incident, which is currently under investigation, according to the news release. He was fired following the conclusion of investigations into two prior use-of-force incidents in December of last year and March of this year, according to the press release.

Imokhai Okolo, who is representing Koonce-Williams, released a statement calling the decision to fire Westlake “a step in the right direction.”

“The community is certainly safer with Officer Westlake off the streets,” Okolo said. “The decision to fire Officer Westlake should have been made a long time ago — before he had the opportunity to shoot a 15-year-old child with absolutely no justification.”

What the newly released files show

Body camera footage from the Dec. 31, 2023 incident shows Westlake and other officers pursuing Frank Winn, a man who had felony warrants and was known to be armed and violent, on foot, according to the patrol operations supervisor's investigative report.

While officers worked to handcuff Winn while facedown on the ground, Westlake placed the barrel of his rifle on the back of Winn's neck. Shortly after Winn was handcuffed, Westlake reached down and grabbed his hair and turned his head. In the use-of-force report, Westlake said he "briefly touched" Winn's hair to evaluate a taser wire caught in his hair.

The investigative report conducted by Captain K. Beitzel found that officers are never trained to use rifles in that manner. "In fact, in a contact/cover situation like this, officers are taught to back away 5 feet, so they can get a better picture of the entire scene while still being able to provide lethal coverage should the situation change and lethal force become necessary," the report states.

The report adds that Winn was no longer resisting at the time of Westlake's actions.

"Officer Westlake's actions were not rough and did not cause any injury," the report states, "however, I find no law enforcement purpose for that act."

Westlake was charged on April 9 with conduct unbecoming of an Akron police officer and violating the department's resisting arrest/use of force procedure.

On March 1, Westlake was involved in another use of force incident. Responding to a report of a theft at Firestone Mini Mart, he restrained a suspect who continually refused to comply. After getting out of his cruiser, footage from a nearby business shows Westlake pushing the suspect towards the cruiser, and the suspect falling to the ground. The suspect was not hurt, according to the use of force investigation. The investigation conducted by Sgt. T.J. Shmigal found that Westlake's actions were within policy. However, the Office of Professional Standards and Accountability disagreed, and Westlake was charged again on April 25 with conduct unbecoming of an Akron police officer and violating the department's resisting arrest/use of force procedure.

Westlake was nearly fired in 2021 after several misconduct violations, including brandishing his firearm toward his girlfriend while intoxicated. He was ultimately reinstated by the department and was suspended for 71 days. His termination is based on two recent use of force incidents but not the shooting of Koonce-Williams, according to a press release from the police department.

Westlake was also reprimanded due to incidents in late 2021, according to a notice of pre-disciplinary conference. On Nov. 23, 2021, he failed to report intentional contact between a suspect's vehicle and his cruiser to his supervisor in a timely manner, instead contacting the Fraternal Order of Police president first. On Dec. 18, 2021, Westlake used his taser on a passenger of a vehicle despite another officer verbally trying to stop him while the passenger was being taken into custody.

The Akron Police Department and the city said they would not provide further comment on the termination.

Westlake’s termination was “overdue," Akron City Councilmember Linda Omobien said.

“Based on what I've read about his record and based on what I heard about it of late, it just sounds like somebody who doesn't represent the police force that we want to have in the city of Akron,” Omobien said. “There’s some wonderful men and women working in the police department, so you certainly don't want that kind of bad apple in our system.”

The police department plans to investigate the Koonce-Williams shooting to determine if department policies were followed. That investigation will be reviewed by the city's police auditor and Citizen's Police Oversight Board.

Charge dropped against Koonce-Williams for now

Summit County Prosecutor Elliot Kolkovich requested the Summit County Juvenile Court dismiss the facsimile firearm charge against Koonce-Williams, pending the completion of "an independent investigation" into the shooting, according to the press release. The Ohio Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.

Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio granted Kolkovich's motion and dismissed the charge, according to the press release.

“Pursuing charges at this time against Mr. Koonce-Williams could undermine the independence of BCI’s investigation,” Kolkovich said in the press release. “Charging decisions should only be made after the completion of a thorough review of the incident by independent investigators.”

The prosecutor's office is not providing additional comment on the shooting.

“I respect the Summit County Prosecutor's decision in this case," Mayor Shammas Malik said in a statement, "and my thoughts are with this young man and his family.”

Community organizers have demanded justice and accountability after the shooting, including calling for Westlake to be fired.

Koonce-Williams' attorney, Imokhai Okolo, added in a Monday release that his fight for getting justice for his client is not over.

“Tavion still sits with the trauma of being shot for simply being a kid. The possibility of criminal charges for simply doing what kids do is still looming over his head,” Okolo said in the release.

Okolo listed several demands, including asking the city to conduct a formal investigation into officers with a history of procedure violations and develop an accountability mechanism for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7, Akron’s police union. He’s also asking for the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into the police department’s patterns and practices.

In a press conference more than a week after the shooting, Koonce-Williams' family said they had been traumatized by the shooting.

Koonce-Williams' was walking with the toy gun to his grandmother's house, family attorney Imokhai Okolo said, and was shot while he was holding his hands up. Akron's police union said Koonce-Williams pulled a firearm from his waistband, and Westlake made a "split second life or death decision."

Updated: May 6, 2024 at 5:22 PM EDT
This story has been updated with comments from the attorney representing Koonce-Williams and his family.

This story has been updated with a comment from Councilmember Omobien about Westlake's firing.

This story was updated with details about what lead to Westlake's firing and with comments from the mayor on the prosecutor's decision to drop charges against Koonce-Williams.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.