Portsmouth chief says police preparing for possible protests

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Portsmouth police are preparing for the possibility of protests after two recent fatal shootings by officers, Police Chief Ed Hargis said Thursday.

“We’re concerned and we’re listening to the community and taking all the information that comes in into account to decide what direction we need to go in,” Hargis said. “We are tracking any kind of information and determining the source of the information so that we can be prepared, should there be any issues in the future.”

Hargis said this week’s violent protests over the death of a suspect in police custody in Baltimore have heightened concerns locally. He said Portsmouth police will support any marches or demonstrations “that are legal and not violent.”

The chief spoke at a news conference Thursday morning, a day after civil rights activists and families of the two men killed by Portsmouth police since March 24 called for more transparency about investigations into the shootings.

“We are making preparations here in Portsmouth, just in case there are any marches or protests,” Hargis said. “Obviously, everyone has their first-amendment right right to assemble. We will support any marches or protests that are legal and not violent. We will block traffic, escort people. We’re making preparations for any of those types of events.”

In a press release Friday, the Portsmouth Police Department released the following statement:

The Portsmouth Police Department is prepared for possible protesting and civil disturbances that are “rumored” to occur within the community over the next few days. The department wants to remind everyone that even though no official protest have been planned, it is making the necessary  preparations and has plans in place to ensure the safety of the citizens and businesses within the community.

Hargis refused to divulge the names of the officers involved in the shootings, saying he did not want to compromise Virginia State Police investigations. He said he also is concerned about the safety of the officers and their families.

“These investigations are confidential,” Hargis said, noting that he doesn’t know what evidence state police have gathered. He said he put his own department’s internal investigations of the shootings on hold “to prevent the appearance of any influence over the criminal investigations.”

William L. Chapman II, 18, was shot and killed by a Portsmouth officer in a Wal-Mart parking lot April 22. State police said the officer was responding to a call about shoplifting when a struggle ensued and Chapman was shot.

On March 24, an officer fatally shot a drug suspect who fled when police attempted to question him. Portsmouth police said an officer fired three to five shots after Walter J. Brown III, 29, pulled a gun.

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