In October 2017, a white police officer in Portsmouth, Virginia, shot and wounded an African-American teenager accused of burglary. The cop said the suspect pointed a gun at him. However, the body cam footage of the shooting, obtained by The Virginian-Pilot, paints a drastically different picture contradicting the officer’s account.
Officer Jeremy Durocher was responding to a robbery call when he saw Deontrace Ward, who was accused of stealing jewelry from the house. When the video began, the cop already had his gun out and opened fire as soon as he spotted the 18-year-old trying to run away. He shot twice as Ward tried to climb over a fence before yelling “he has a gun” — even though the only weapon visible in the footage is the one held by Durocher.
From the gap in the fence, Ward could be seen falling to the ground after the bullets hit his back, but the rookie officer still pursued and shot him two more times.
That’s when the other cops approached the suspect, yelling at him to stay down and pulling his hands behind his back to place handcuffs. Ward can be heard saying “I can’t breath,” to which a female officer callously replied, “You’ll be fine.”
Meanwhile, Durocher insisted the suspect, who was lying motionless on the ground, had a gun.
“I swear to God you will regret it,” the unidentified officer told Ward, ordering him not to reach for his weapon.
Upon not finding any firearm near the suspect, the cops asked him where it was before turning their attention towards Durocher, who said Ward “didn’t shoot, but he had it [pointed] at me as he come out the window.”
“That scared me so bad, when I saw the gun waved at me,” he added.
Although it wasn’t captured on the department-issued body cam, authorities claimed they found a .45-caliber handgun hidden between Ward’s knees and ankles. Considering the teen was shot in the back and still has a bullet lodged in his stomach, it is rather hard to believe he was supposedly able to hide the gun right after he was shot — that too without being noticed by the cops or the camera.
Moreover, how was Ward a threat when he was running away from the cop, even if he was guilty? Also, if cops could arrest alleged Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz (who killed 17 people) and alleged Waffle House shooter Travis Reinking (who killed 4 people) without shooting and wounding them, why can’t they use the same tactics for black suspects for far less dangerous crimes?
“I feel he shot for no reason,” Ward said during an interview at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. “I was just pretty much trying to get away. Showing no aggression.”
He said the shooting would have made some sense if he had a gun out or had run toward the officer.
“But if I'm just running away, I shouldn't get shot,” he said.
Ward’s mother also shared her son’s sentiments.
“It was heartbreaking to see my son shot while running away,” said Eboni West. “He didn’t deserve to get shot.”
At a time when the African-American community is already protesting brutal police killings of unarmed black men — one of who was shot in his own backyard — this particular shooting could’ve ended in an absolute tragedy.
However, Durocher's attorney, Nicholas Renninger, claimed his client’s actions were “absolutely justified, without reservation.”
“The suspect was armed, had burglarized a home and was clearly a danger and a threat in that regard,” Renninger said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “I have no qualms whatsoever in saying that my client’s actions in protecting himself and those around him were justified.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with the South Texas College of Law Houston newspaper, Kenneth Williams, who is a recognized expert on police’s use of force, wondered how “the gun could have gone from Ward's hand to the bottom of his pant leg so quickly.”
“That said, I think a prosecution of the police (officer) would be extremely difficult because the officer's claim of seeing a gun being waved at him would be hard to refute,” he explained, adding juries “tend to give the police the benefit of the doubt when they claim to have seen a weapon on a suspect.”
The Office of Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales also released a statement.
“The Virginia State Police conducted an investigation into this matter and provided its investigative results to our office,” it said. “Our office is now working to investigate further and to obtain every relevant fact in this matter. Upon completion of our investigation we will apply the law to the facts and determine whether use of force was justified or not pursuant to the law. We will provide an update when a determination is made.”
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