US Justice Department charges 'straw purchaser' in Ohio police shooting

WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it has charged an Ohio man with acting as a "straw purchaser" of a gun used by a man accused of shooting and killing two police officers on Saturday.

Gerald A. Lawson III, 30, of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, was charged with aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, the department said.

An attorney for Lawson could not immediately be reached for comment.

His arrest on Monday came after two Westerville, Ohio police officers were shot to death on Saturday while responding to a domestic disturbance. The suspected shooter is a convicted felon who was prohibited from purchasing guns, the department said.

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Two Ohio police officers killed in shooting
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Two Ohio police officers killed in shooting

Officer Anthony Morelli, 54, and Officer Eric Joering, 39, of Westerville Division of Police.

(City of Westerville/Handout via REUTERS)

Two police officers were fatally shot in Westerville, Ohio on Saturday afternoon, authorities say… https://t.co/z44OUbHGow

Officer Anthony Morelli, 54, of Westerville Division of Police (WPD) is seen in this undated photo in Westerville, Ohio, U.S., released February 10, 2018.

(City of Westerville/Handout via REUTERS)

Officer Eric Joering, 39, of Westerville Division of Police (WPD) is seen in this undated photo in Westerville, Ohio, U.S., released February 10, 2018. 

(City of Westerville/Handout via REUTERS)

Hundreds of police cars are traveling southbound on Route 315 in Columbus in honor of fallen Westerville officers A… https://t.co/HYwkLqPsTR
I am very saddened to learn of the deaths of two of my hometown police officers today. I have spoken with Westervi… https://t.co/DFPNlOSnc5
Praying for the families of two police officers killed in the line of duty today in Westerville. A tragic reminder… https://t.co/ak4yEq48RD
Just spoke to @JohnKasich to express condolences and prayers to all for the horrible shooting of two great police o… https://t.co/X7AhuEYwHI
The City of #Westerville suffered a tremendous loss today. @WestervillePD Officer Anthony Morelli and Officer Eric… https://t.co/16fyOzRDVe
Westerville hardware store offers free blue light bulbs in honor of fallen officers https://t.co/hK40sxKc16
Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer: "Both officers gave their life in protection of others. Those are true Amer… https://t.co/u0MeoCwISa
Westerville shared photos from the careers of Officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, who were killed in the lin… https://t.co/tjs1aZwGzg
.@danpearlman shot this moments ago outside of the Westerville Division of Police. https://t.co/KzN99icnnh
Police shooting horror: Two Ohio cops are killed in the line of duty and gunman is arrested https://t.co/J4LcMJUwh7
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The suspected shooter, Quentin L. Smith, is also in custody.

In a recording released by the authorities on Sunday, a woman who identified herself as Smith's wife told a 911 emergency operator that her husband shot the two officers.

Officer Eric Joering, 39, died at the scene, and Officer Anthony Morelli, 54, died from his wounds at a hospital.

Both officers were shot when they entered an apartment in response to a 911 call that had hung up.

The Justice Department said Monday that an unnamed witness told them Smith gave Lawson the money to buy a Glock handgun he used in the shooting, plus an extra $100 on the side because he had a prior criminal record.

The department added that the two men have long been friends and were photographed together in pictures posted on social media accounts.

A firearms trace on the Glock also showed that Lawson bought the gun, the department added.

The incident prompted President Donald Trump to respond on Twitter over the weekend, saying he offered his prayers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also offered his condolences on Monday, in a speech he delivered to the National Sheriffs' Association.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)

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