By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) - The family of an unarmed Black man who was shot dead by a white store owner in Cincinnati asked the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday to open a civil rights investigation into the case after the local prosecutor declined to bring any charges.
Da'Shawn Tye, 19, was shot at the Mages Grocery in the Ohio city's Price Hill neighborhood on Nov. 19. On Dec. 9, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters announced no charges would be filed, saying Tye was attempting to rob the store for the third time.
Tye was shot three times, twice in the chest and once in the pelvis, his family lawyer said, based on conversations with prosecutors. A wounded Tye left the store, was found one block away, and died in the hospital, Deters said in a statement. No weapon was found on or near Tye.
Deters concluded Tye was the aggressor in all three cases, which Tye's family disputes. The prior incidents were on Aug. 8 and Nov. 14, police reports showed.
"This individual did this not once, not twice, but three times. The first time he pulled a gun and the second time he assaulted the store owner. We are thankful the owner was able to protect himself," Deters said in his statement.
Tye's family contends there is no evidence their son acted improperly, or that he was in the store on the prior dates. Moreover, they said two still images of the perpetrator of the earlier robberies, shown to them by Cincinnati homicide detectives, was not their son. There are no known images from the day of the shooting.
The store owner, Michael Mages, 60, who is white, referred Reuters to his lawyer, Erin Moore, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Tye family attorney Fanon Rucker of The Cochran Firm suspects Mages may have mistaken Tye for the robber.
The family is appealing to the Justice Department to open a federal investigation into the shooting and into the Hamilton County Prosecuting Office's treatment of white shooters of Black men whom they perceive as a threat.
Rucker wrote to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which is being reported by Reuters for the first time, saying Tye's civil rights were violated and accused Mages of a hate crime.
"Despite being unarmed and no threat to Mr. Mages or anyone in the store, Mr. Mages pulled out a gun and shot Da'Shawn three times," said the letter from Rucker, a Democrat who challenged the Republican Deters in the 2020 election for Hamilton County prosecutor and lost.
The letter was received by the civil rights division by facsimile and sent by certified mail on Wednesday, Rucker said. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter calls Deters' determination that Tye was behind the two previous robberies "disturbing" given that neither "Mages nor Deters presented any evidence proving this theory to the family or the general public."
A spokeswoman for the Hamilton County prosecutor declined to comment beyond what Deters said in his statement because the investigation has not yet been closed.
A Cincinnati police spokesman declined to comment.
The small grocery has been in the Mages family for three generations, and Michael Mages held onto it even as friends and family urged him to leave, said Greg Nolan, an attorney who represented the Mageses in alcohol licensing matters.
"Michael is a kind and gentle soul," Nolan said. "His brother and I always admired him for hanging in there."
'ALWAYS BE RESPECTFUL'
Da'Shawn Tye worked two jobs, one at Amazon and one in fast food, his family said, earning enough to get his own apartment across the street from the Mages grocery and next door to Mages' home.
His father, Shawn Morgan, 40, said he taught his son about the potential injustice of being a Black man in America, advising him to stay out of trouble.
"Always be respectful, because that's how I was raised. And we raised him the same way," Morgan said.
Tye's family said he had complained that the store owner disliked him.
"I said well, son, you know how you have to treat people like that - just kill them with kindness," said Lacey Morgan, who is married to Tye's father and helped raise Tye. "That eats at me all the time because I encouraged my son to be kind to the man that eventually took his life."
On the day of the shooting, according to the prosecutor's account, the store owner saw Tye approaching the store and attempted to lock the door, but Tye was able to enter. Deters said that Tye backed the owner into a corner, the owner retrieved his handgun, and shot Tye.
(Reporting and writing by Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien; editing by Grant McCool)