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'This experience has been traumatizing.' Family of 15-year-old teen shot by Akron police speaks out

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 and his family members sit at a table waiting to speak at a press conference in Akron on April 12, 2024. From left to right: James Koonce, Tavion's father; Tavion Koonce-Williams; Angel Williams, his mother, and Dominique Mingo, his aunt.

The family of the teenager shot by an Akron police officer in early April spoke publicly Friday for the first time since the shooting, calling for the officer to be held accountable.

The aftermath has been “traumatizing” for Tavion Koonce-Williams and his family, said his mother, Angel Williams.

“[The] Akron Police Department needs to be held accountable for the excessive force that [they] use on our Black babies,” Williams said. "It won't just be my child. It’ll be yours next. And it won't stop. It won't stop until we make it stop.”

Koonce-Williams, a sophomore at East Community Learning Center, was shot in the hand by Akron police officer Ryan Westlake on April 1.

His parents and the family’s attorney, Imokhai Okolo, spoke during a press conference held in Akron Friday morning at an event center on the city's north side.

“I am grateful to God that my son is still alive, but I am deeply hurt by the trauma that this has caused that will forever affect his life,” said James Koonce, the teen’s father.

Koonce-Williams was at the briefing but did not speak.

Bodycam footage released by police shows Westlake arrive at Brittain Road and Ottawa Avenue shortly after 7 p.m., responding to a call that someone was pointing a gun at homes. Westlake fired a shot immediately after asking to see the juvenile's hands and before getting all the way out of his patrol car.

A gun, which police now say was a replica, can be seen lying on the grass between Westlake and the teen.

“Tavion was being a kid. He was being a kid walking down the street with a toy, going to his grandmother’s house,” Okolo, his attorney, said during the Friday briefing. “But unfortunately for Tavion, Tavion can't be a Black kid walking down the street with a toy because someone called and said, ‘Oh, he's pointing it around.’”

Koonce-Williams was shot with his hands up, Okolo added. Akron’s police union said in a statement “the suspect pulled a firearm from his waistband” and Westlake “made a split-second life or death decision.”

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating the shooting. Westlake is on paid administrative leave.

Imokhai Okolo (right) speaks during a press conference April 12, 2024 about his client, a 15-year-old shot by Akron police.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Imokhai Okolo (right) speaks during a press conference April 12, 2024 about his client, a 15-year-old shot by Akron police.

During the press conference, Okolo read a list of demands, including calling for Westlake to be terminated and repeatedly asked why Westlake was allowed to work for the department.

Westlake was fired from the department in 2021 after several violations, including brandishing his gun in front of his girlfriend while intoxicated, but was reinstated the next day, according to his personnel file.

“How can you have a letter go out that says you're unfit to be a member of the Akron Police Department and that very next day you're reinstated? It makes absolutely no sense,” Okolo said. “This city understands that we have a pattern and practice of Black people, Black boys and girls being traumatized and being terrorized by this Akron Police Department, and they need to do something.”

The family is also calling for an investigation into the department’s patterns and practices, Okolo said. Okolo plans to eventually sue the city over the incident, he added.

“Unfortunately, in this country, the only way that this family can affirmatively reach justice is a civil lawsuit,” Okolo said.

The other demands include urging Akron City Council to adopt legislation that would hold the police union accountable for supporting officers who have a history of violating department policies. They've also asked the city to investigate officers who have committed multiple violations to determine if they are still fit to serve.

Representatives from community organizations also spoke at the press conference and demanded justice.

Judi Hill, president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP, said Koonce-Williams was not endangering anyone with the toy gun.

“I'm trying to figure this out. There was no disobedience. There was a man walking down the street. You don't know his age; you don't know anything about him except his color,” Hill said.

The shooting shows a need for better training and de-escalation techniques in the department, she added.

“[Koonce-Williams] shouldn't have had a toy gun. But an officer who is trained to assess the situation, who's an adult, who is trained, I'll continue to say that, should not have shot a [15-year-old] child,” Hill said.

Ray Greene Jr., executive director of Black-led community organizing group Freedom BLOC, said a suspect having a gun isn’t enough of a reason for an officer to shoot.

"He was shot by the police for carrying a toy gun in a state where open carry is legal. It was a toy,” Greene said.

Greene added that even though the shooting was not fatal, Koonce-Williams will have to deal with long-lasting effects.

“Hey may be breathing; he may be talking; he may be walking, but his life is forever changed,” he said.

Koonce-Williams has had trouble sleeping since the incident, his father, Koonce, added. He does not have permanent damage to his hand, Okolo said.

The city prosecutor’s office is considering charging Koonce-Williams for having a facsimile weapon, he added.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.