PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — A Virginia police officer who shot and killed a man in a Wal-Mart parking lot was indicted Thursday on charges of first-degree murder and using a gun in a felony.
Portsmouth Circuit Court records show a grand jury indicted city Officer Stephen D. Rankin.
William Chapman II, 18, was shot April 22. Virginia State Police said the shooting occurred when an officer responded to a call from Wal-Mart security about shoplifting, and a struggle ensued.
Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales announced last week that she planned to seek the indictment.
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Rankin’s attorney, Nicole Belote, told The Virginian-Pilot (http://bit.ly/1hYzEfq ) that she was surprised a first-degree murder charge was sought and obtained, and that “the facts do not support such a charge.”
She added: “We will continue to prepare for trial and zealously defend Officer Rankin.”
A Portsmouth police spokeswoman did not respond to a telephone message from The Associated Press.
The indictment came in the wake of a spate of highly scrutinized shootings of black suspects by white police officers across the country in the past year. Chapman is black. Rankin is white.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, an autopsy showed Chapman was shot once in the face and once in the chest. His body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Jon Babineau, attorney for the Chapman family, called the indictment unprecedented.
“Clearly the evidence and the facts, which we have not seen, are of such a significance that the commonwealth’s attorney sought the first-degree murder indictment, which as an essential element includes premeditation,” Babineau said. “Premeditation involves someone thinking about what they are going to do before they do it.”
Portsmouth NAACP spokeswoman Roddena Kirksey said in a statement that the indictment “sends a strong message throughout our community that the badge is not above the law and those who betray the public trust by not valuing the dignity of human life will be held accountable.”
Rankin had shot and killed a Portsmouth resident while on duty once before. In 2011 he killed Kirill Denyakin, from Kazakhstan, after responding to a burglary call. Rankin said Denyakin charged at him and refused to take his hand out of his pants. He was struck 11 times, according to the autopsy.
A grand jury cleared Rankin of wrongdoing in that shooting, and a civil suit by Denyakin’s family was unsuccessful.