Portsmouth NAACP calls for transparency in police investigations

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Portsmouth NAACP branch called upon authorities Wednesday to release more information on recent officer-involved deaths.

The NAACP was joined by the families of those who died — Walter Brown, Derrick Lewis, and William Chapman — at a news conference around 6 p.m. President James Boyd called for transparency from the Portsmouth Police Department, Virginia State Police, and the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney.

“We are united today, calling for transparency. We are united today, calling for facts,” Boyd said. ” … We’re asking for them to release information that does not impugn the integrity of the investigation, so that these families in our community can move on.”

Boyd said there are discoveries that could be revealed to the public without hurting the investigation. For example, Portsmouth police had said Brown pulled a gun out before an officer shot and killed him. Boyd said police could have released information on the type of gun that was collected from the crime scene. Boyd said police could also release information on the Tasers used in the various incidents.

Brown was killed inside his own home in late March. A police officer had followed Brown to his home after a vehicle pursuit. Chief Ed Hargis said at the time, Brown ran into his house as the officer deployed his Taser, which had no impact. Hargis said there was a struggle between Brown and the officer, and two backup officers followed into the house.

“A second officer, one of the backup officers, deployed his Taser, and again, there was no impact on the individual at that time,” Hargis said in March.

Hargis said Brown then pulled out a handgun, and officers tried to get it from him. At that point, Hargis said an officer fired three to five shots at Brown.

Brown’s wife, Octiavia Brown, spoke Wednesday about what the last month has been like for her family.

“It’s not even me that’s important right now, it’s my children,” she said. “They have questions every day that I can’t answer. But one day, I will be able to answer the questions for my kids, and we won’t give up.”

Lewis died two weeks ago, on April 13, about 30 minutes after arriving at Portsmouth City Jail. Detective Misty Holley said two weeks ago, Lewis was taken into custody on an outstanding warrant around midnight. He was taken to police headquarters, where additional charges were filed against him, and then he was handed over to Portsmouth sheriff’s deputies at the city jail around 4:30 a.m.

Holley said deputies noticed the inmate “having a medical emergency” around 5 a.m. They started doing CPR, and medics were called to the jail to help. The inmate was rushed to a local hospital, where he later died.

Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson told WAVY.com, Lewis told medics he swallowed a “speed ball” wrapped in plastic before his arrest. A “speed ball” is usually heroin mixed with cocaine.

Lewis’ sister, Laneesha Saunders, said at Wednesday’s news conference the family has received very few details on his death.

“We have not heard anything from police,” Saunders said. “Requests for police reports, requests for E.R., 911 calls, haven’t gotten anything.”

The Brown, Lewis, and Chapman families said they don’t feel comfortable with the various police investigations because they have not heard anything from investigators.

Chapman’s mother, Sallie Chapman, said there was nothing she could reveal about the investigation into her son’s death. “Nobody has told me anything,” Chapman said. ” … I can just express how I feel, how angry I am, and I want something done.”

Sgt. Michelle Anaya with Virginia State Police said Chapman was suspected of shoplifting from the Wal-Mart on Frederick Boulevard Wednesday, April 22. Anaya said an officer approached Chapman in the parking lot and a struggle started. At some point during the altercation, Anaya said the officer shot Chapman. She said the officer immediately called for medical rescue, but Chapman died at the scene.

Chapman’s mother said she wants to know the status of the officer who shot her son. Portsmouth police have said he was put on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Portsmouth police have not commented on the officer-involved shootings since handing the cases over to Virginia State Police. Boyd said Wednesday, he expects more transparency on the police department’s internal investigations.

Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales released this statement to WAVY.com on Wednesday:

It is of the utmost importance that thorough and complete investigations are conducted as to each of the two pending matters. I engage with the community and interest groups when appropriate; however, these investigations must not be impeded for any reason, as I must have a full understanding of all the facts in order diligently perform my duties. Each investigation will proceed on its own merits and upon completion the facts will be applied to the law and my report will be released to the public at that time.

Portsmouth Police Chief Ed Hargis will address the media on this topic at 11 a.m. Thursday. Specifically, he is expected to discuss the investigative process of these cases and answer questions about the Portsmouth officer-involved shooting death in 2011.

You can watch that press conference live on WAVY.com and catch recaps on WAVY News 10 Midday and again on WAVY News 10, starting at 4 p.m.

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