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‘A Father Is Gone’: Ohio Cop Who Shot Black Man Firing NYE Celebratory Shots In His Backyard Is Cleared of Wrongdoing; Officials Say He Was Responding to Active Shooter

An Ohio officer who shot a Black man firing celebratory gunshots in his backyard on New Year’s Day won’t face criminal charges, and the city review board says he acted appropriately.

Reports show an internal review of the incident by a panel of Canton’s top law enforcement officials and the city attorney concluded that officer Robert Huber acted according to the police department’s policies.

James Williams, his wife and children. (Photo: Twitter/@STPAkron)

Body-camera footage of the shooting shows Huber releasing a barrage of gunfire through a wooden fence at the James Williams’ residence. He says on the police radio that he saw a man’s head peering from the top of the fence.

Reports show Huber was responding to a call about gunshots in the area when he spotted Williams in his backyard. The man’s family said he was firing his Ruger AR-556 rifle in the air minutes after midnight to celebrate the start of the new year. 

After shooting several rounds into the fence, Huber announces himself, the video shows. Williams’ wife and five children could be heard screaming.

“My husband’s been shot,” a woman standing on the house’s front porch yells to Huber.

“He’s the one shooting the gun,” Huber shouts back.

The woman tells the officer that she does not have a gun, and he orders everyone out of the house. Williams’ wife calls the children out of the house before asking the officers to get aid for her husband.

“Y’all not moving fast enough. He’s in here bleeding out,” she said.

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Erica Armstrong said in her report that Williams suffered gunshot wounds to multiple vital organs due to six gunshots.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigated the shooting. Huber told investigators that he automatically responded to the gunfire, the OBCI report shows.

Canton Police Officer Robert Huber shot James Williams on January 1, 2022. (Photo: The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation image)

The officer said he did not believe it was “celebratory gunfire” because it was in an urban and populated area and “to shoot, 40, 50, 60, I don’t even know how many rounds he was able to even fire, is one thing. That’s, in my opinion, you can’t do that. The risk to the public is so astronomical at that point in time that there’s no legal, there’s no sensible way to even try to justify it.”

A Stark County grand jury last month decided that Huber was justified in his response.

 Stark County Prosecutor Kyle Stone said in a media briefing on Sept. 7 that he presented a “wide range of charges” to jurors. He did not have the authority to pursue felony charges against the officer without the proceeding, he added.

Canton’s Mayor Thomas Bernabei announced Tuesday that the city’s use-of-force review board decided that the officer’s actions did not constitute any punishment. 

Huber had returned to the job 16 days after the shooting, according to Williams’ family and supporters. His family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city in March.

Bernabei offered his prayers to Williams’ family in a news release on Wednesday.

“Officer Huber, who was doing his job on patrol on Jan. 1, was placed in extraordinarily challenging split-second decision circumstances and acted through his training to confront and not walk away from an ‘active shooter’ incident and must now live with the trauma of this incident,” Bernabei said.

The review board unanimously agreed that Huber “could have reasonably believed there was an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to himself and acted reasonably in that regard,” according to its final report.

It was not “feasible or even possible” for Huber to safely announce himself or try to de-escalation efforts, the board concluded.

Police Chief John Gabbard said the officer was responding to an “active shooter.”

“Training in the engagement of active shooters has developed and evolved into standard practice in law enforcement,” Gabbard said in a recent memorandum. “From every tragic incident across the country, lessons are learned and applied to that ever-improving training.

The result of what has been learned and trained pertinent to this incident is recognition of the need for officers to immediately get to the shooter and stop the threat, even at great personal risk. This is different than situations that allow for drawn-out evaluations, attempts to de-escalate, even attempts to use different force options.”

Atlanta Black Star reached out to William’s family attorney but did not get an immediate response. However, Colin Meeker told The Repository he was not surprised that the city would back the officer.

However, some members of the city council have voiced displeasure with the review board’s decision.

“It’s really hard for me to really speak on it,” Canton City Councilwoman Chris Smith told The Repository.” I’m still just disgusted that he didn’t get anything or wasn’t charged with anything because I still feel that a life is gone, a father is gone, a husband is gone.” 

The local NAACP plans to conduct a review of all documents connected to the case.

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