CLEVELAND, Ohio — This week, a grand jury chose not to file criminal charges against a Garfield Heights police officer who alleged he accidentally shot a woman in 2021.
A grand jury on Wednesday returned a “nobile” denying vicious, reckless, and negligent assaults against officer Eric Garcia in the shooting, said Cuyahoga County Deputy Attorney Saleh Awadallah.
In a statement to investigators, Garcia said he was chasing a man who got out of the driver’s seat of a Jeep with a gun, and a woman who was in the SUV suddenly appeared in front of him.
Garcia pulled the gun back toward his body and accidentally pulled the trigger, Awadallah said. The bullet hit the woman’s left elbow.
A grand jury charged Jeep driver Labontay Johnson with reckless assault for creating the circumstances that led to the shooting. Johnson has also been charged with weapons charges, disobedience to police, and tampering with evidence.
George Gerken, the police union attorney who represented the Garfield Heights officers and defended Garcia, said the officers were happy with the grand jury’s decision.
Multiple requests for comment sent to Garfield Heights Police Chief Mark Kay’s office this week were not returned.
Cleveland.com has requested body camera video of the shooting from prosecutors and Garfield Heights police.
The shooting stems from reports of two SUVs involved in a shooting at Valley Lane Apartments near Rockside Road on December 21, 2021 at approximately 11:30 pm.
Garcia, who was a field training officer who was on patrol with the recruits, and officers from two other police cruisers attempted to set up a road block when one of the SUVs pulled away from the shooting, Awadala said. The SUV drove over a curb and slowed down to avoid the blockade, prosecutors said.
Garcia and his partner tracked him down in the passenger seat of a police SUV, Awadallah said. The chase went through Garfield Heights and reached 95 mph, he said.
Police radio chat recordings revealed police believed only one person was in the Jeep during the chase, Awadallah said. According to prosecutors, the chase ended on the tracks of Etna Road when Johnson approached a moving train.
As Garcia and his partner approached the Jeep, Johnson jumped out of the driver’s seat and officers saw him carrying a gun. He said he could see a gun on his body camera video.
The man ran in front of the jeep, Garcia behind. Garcia pulled out a gun and looked back to the back passenger corner of the Jeep looking for Johnson, but instead saw a woman standing by the passenger door and accidentally fired.
When Garcia asked if the woman was okay, she said she had been shot. When he asked who shot her, she replied, “You shot.”
Garcia then stayed with the woman until an ambulance arrived and took her to a university hospital for treatment.
He said police recovered a gun containing Johnson’s DNA. Ballistics tests matched the gun to bullet casings found in the streets of Valley Lane Apartments.
Investigators also learned that a Jeep was stolen in a carjacking from an apartment building on East 12th Street in downtown Cleveland 10 days ago.
Cleveland police investigated the shooting.
Garfield Heights police said in a news release the morning after the shooting that Garcia had been given paid leave pending an investigation. I couldn’t say when.
Wycliffe’s 33-year-old Garcia joined the Southeast Regional Law Enforcement SWAT unit in early 2021, according to the agency’s 2022 annual report.