Special Report: Wrongful Death Dispute

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — What really happened in 2009 when Portsmouth police shot and killed a Vietnam War veteran with mental illness? For years police have said the suspect, Marshall Franklin, barricaded himself in his house then tried to kill two officers. Now seven years later, we are getting a look into how things really played out that day.

Court documents filed with a lawsuit against the former Police Chief Ed Hargis, the city of Portsmouth and the Police Department, show things didn’t happen the way police initially said.


The family wants closure. They’ll have to wait even longer for it because the wrongful death trial, which was supposed to begin Monday, was postponed yet again.

There were dozens of officers, crime scene tape, and even a sniper on a roof around Portsmouth’s Campbell Street on February 26, 2009.

Of that day, Franklin’s sister Yvonne Franklin Sparks said, “That day lives constantly in my head.”

“We heard the shots that day. We heard everything so we lived through it just like it was a combat situation for us,” sister Toni Franklin Dixon said.

Sister Alberta F. Thomas added, “It was a very difficult time for me. I had flashbacks. At night I would wake up crying.”

Yvonne, Toni, and Alberta watched a barricade situation unfold around their family home, knowing their brother Marshall Franklin was inside.

“No man or woman should serve their country, do two tours of duty in a violent situation in Vietnam and then come back home and die on American soil,” Toni said.

Marshall was shot and killed by police after they said he shot two officers.

“I wanted to believe in the system in the way that things should go, but it didn’t happen that way,” Alberta said.

Having nearly three decades experience working with mental health patients, Alberta says she knew what should have happened.

So when her brother Marshall – who’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress syndrome – wasn’t taking his meds, she called the community services board and was confident he’d get help.

However that wasn’t what happened.

“I had never seen the amount of police officers that showed up. I had never seen them not allow the family members to be involved to try to talk to the patient,” Alberta said.

According to a police summary of that day filed in court – “mental health was on scene” and told police the suspect “came at her with some type of sharp object.”

It goes on to say officers saw Marshall with a “shank to his throat.”

When police tried to take him into custody, they said Marshall lunged at them with the weapon.

SWAT was called.

However according to a deposition taken in May by a high ranking police lieutenant and training director, in this incident “mental health may not have even been on site yet.”

The mental health worker said in her deposition in June last year, she never assessed Marshall. An officer and a deputy were there when she arrived.
In fact, she said it was police who told her he had a knife.

Also according to the lawsuit, there is no definitive evidence that Marshall fired the shot-gun found next to his body or that the shot-gun shells are from that gun.

Franklin did have guns and ammunition in the house but his family says he and his brother who lived in the house were both avid hunters.

“They claim that they saw a flash in the house but yet there’s no evidence proving that he shot any officers, but a sniper from a roof killed my brother,” Toni said.

The family is suing for $1.5 million claiming the former Police Chief Ed Hargis and his officers are responsible for Marshall’s death and they were negligent in handling someone with mental illness.

“I would like for them to admit that they were wrong and they didn’t follow policies or procedures in this matter,” Yvonne said.

It will be up to a jury to decide the final outcome.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney has already cleared the officers of any wrongdoing; that’s why this is a civil case not a criminal one.

10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings contacted the Portsmouth Police Department for a comment on this story. Public Information Officer Misty Holley issued this statement:

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity, however we will not be commenting on the pending civil litigation/trial regarding the Marshall Franklin case.”

Attorneys are scheduled to meet soon to discuss a new trial date.