Chief stands by officers in deadly Norfolk police-involved shooting

Police say officers shot a man after he lunged at them while holding a knife.

Norfolk Police Chief Michael Goldsmith addresses the media on June 3, following a deadly officer-involved shooting. Photo Credit: WAVY/Joe Fisher.

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A man is dead after an officer-involved shooting Thursday evening in Norfolk.

Chief Michael Goldsmith stood behind the actions of his officers in a news conference Friday morning. “The evidence supports what the officers told us,” he said as he took questions from the media.

Willie D. James. Credit: Family photo
Willie D. James. Credit: Family photo

Goldsmith identified the victim as 43-year-old Willie D. James.

“Last night’s incident was a tragedy for the James family,” Goldsmith said. “It was also a tragedy for our department and a tragedy for the community, and our hearts go out to the family for suffering this loss.”

The shooting happened shortly after 6:45 p.m. in the Tidewater Gardens neighborhood.

In a statement issued Friday, Chief Goldsmith says officers were investigating a stolen vehicle in the 400 block of Chapel Street when community members asked for their help at a nearby residence.

Goldsmith says the two officers responded, and when they then entered the home, they were directed to James, who was upstairs. As the officers stood at the bottom of the stairwell, James pulled out a knife and charged at them, despite the officers’ attempt to give verbal commands, Goldsmith says.

After making it the bottom of the stairwell, James wielded the knife at one officer, Chief Goldsmith’s statement reads.

The officers then fired their duty weapons, hitting James several times.

Norfolk Fire-Rescue crews responded to the scene and both officers attempted life-saving measures on James until medics arrived. James was transported to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he later died.

In multiple instances Friday morning, Goldsmith expressed confidence in the police department and the officers who responded on Thursday. He said the officers are veterans of three and 13 years, respectively.

“This department has done its job with crisis intervention. We have done a lot of work. We have become one of the top CIT departments in the state.”

Goldsmith confirmed that one of the officers was wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting. He says he has reviewed the footage, but noted that the video will not be made public at this time.

Goldsmith also noted that these kinds of shootings always have an impact on the officers involved. “I’ve never seen an officer come out of one of these things unscathed,” he said.

Family members told 10 On Your Side that James was a kindhearted man, diagnosed with schizophrenia 10 years ago. The illness changed his life and caused him to have several run-ins with police over the years, James’ loved ones say.

“He was very aware of his disability and who his family was, so I just feel like it was very unnecessary,” says James’ former girlfriend, Robin Vaughan.

James’ niece says her uncle had been verbally arguing with another family member before the police arrived.

“We was like, ‘He upstairs, he alright.’ We told them, ‘He alright.’ They were like, ‘No,’ told him to come down. He came out the room. They said, ‘Put your hands up.’ He put his hands up, then he start talking the way he be, like crazy talking, then he jumped down like three steps and they unloaded on him and I took off running.”

Josette Horne, James’ friend, says he was unarmed when the shooting happened.

“He never had a knife, gun, stick or brick,” Horne said.

Vaughan says she saw one of the officers shed tears after the shooting.

“I know it was a mistake, because the way the officer responded after the situation happened,” Vaughan added. “He was very remorseful. He cried.”

The two officers involved have been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation.

Norfolk Police will be handling the investigation into this incident, even though Chief Goldsmith has previously turned over officer-involved shooting cases to Virginia State Police.

James’ loved ones want to know why this case isn’t going to troopers.

“Justice has to be served,” Horne said.  “It has to go past the Norfolk Police. They need everybody to get involved with this.”

This is the fifth fatal officer-involved shooting this year in Norfolk.

Councilman Paul Riddick has called for a federal investigation into all Norfolk officer-involved shootings dating back to 2013 in the wake of Thursday’s shooting.

Goldsmith addressed questions regarding the numbers and statistics surrounding officer-involved shootings in Norfolk.

“It never comes down to numbers … it’s a situation,” he said. “When you try to reduce it to just numbers, you lose something.”

Community members gathered and held a peaceful vigil Friday night to remember James.

Stay with WAVY News 10 for the latest updates on this story.

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