The above picture is not a glamour shot; it’s a group photo and it is historic. It is a photograph of every single prosecutor in America who has successfully indicted more than one case of an on-duty police shooting.
On Nov. 1, a Portsmouth, Va., grand jury issued a true bill against Officer Jeremy D. Durocher for charges of aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
As previously reported by The Root, on Oct. 29, 2017, Portsmouth police officer Jeremy Durocher responded to a burglary call and found 18-year-old Deontrace Lamont Ward allegedly burglarizing the home.
Durocher began chasing Ward on foot, which was captured by the cop’s body-worn camera. According to The Root:
The video begins with Durocher’s gun already drawn. As soon as he spots Ward, Durocher begins opening fire. Apparently gifted with extrasensory perception, Durocher yells, “He has a gun!” as he pursues Ward, shooting an additional three times.
When Ward is felled by the gunshots and handcuffed by other officers, who cannot find a gun, Durocher continues to insist that the subject waved a gun. Ward can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” to which a female officer responds, “You’ll be fine.”
Police say they found a .45-caliber handgun in Ward’s pants between his knees and ankles. The 18-year-old, who still has a bullet lodged in his abdomen, says that he never pointed the gun or had it in his hands during the altercation. “I was just pretty much trying to get away. Showing no aggression,” he told the Virginian-Pilot.
Police refused to release the video on the grounds that there was an ongoing investigation. Ward’s defense attorneys finally obtained a copy of it in early April and released it to the family and the public.
After the shooting, Durocher received a medal of valor and named the department’s patrol officer of the month, the Virginian-Pilot reports. But in a statement provided to The Root by Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, her office sought the charges “after carefully considering the results of a Virginia State Police investigation” and separate investigation performed by her office.
This isn’t the first time Morales has indicted a cop for an on-duty shooting. In 2016, in her first year as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Portsmouth (essentially the District Attorney), Morales successfully convicted Portsmouth Police Department Officer Stephen Rankin of voluntary manslaughter.
Rankin was on trial for the death of 18-year-old William Chapman after Chapman reportedly resisted when the officer tried to arrest him for allegedly stealing from a local Walmart. It was the second time Rankin had killed an unarmed citizen.
When Rankin took the stand, Morales accepted the eyewitness testimony. Instead, she pointed out that Rankin could have used a baton. She showed the jury the “end of the world” button on Rankin’s police radio that he could have used to call for backup before shooting Chapman in the face and chest.
But Morales, Portsmouth’s first black woman to be elected as commonwealth attorney, seemed to focus on one fact. Morales didn’t deny that Chapman had raised his hands in an aggressive manner. She seemed to frustrate Chapman and other witnesses by asking the same question repeatedly throughout the trial.
Did Chapman lunge at the officer with his fists “balled up?” Was Chapman in a boxer’s stance? Just to be certain, could they see his fists in the air?
They all said yes.
Officers on the scene, construction workers who witnessed the incident, a Walmart Security guard and another woman all said Chapman got into a fighting stance, raised his fists and dared the cop: “Shoot me, motherfucker, shoot me.”
“There were some people who heard the accounts and said ‘Oh my goodness, [Rankin] was in fear!’ But immediately, in my mind, there was only one question,” Morales told the Root.
“If his fists were in the air, you could see there was nothing in his hands.”
And that’s how a jury found Officer Stephen Rankin guilty.
Despite her outstanding record, Morales has faced heavy criticism for everything from her dogged pursuit of justice, such as in the death of 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell, who died after losing 50 pounds during a 101-day stay in a Virginia jail for stealing $5 dollars worth of junk food. Critics recently raised an uproar after she appeared in a family-made rap video called “Sundress Season,” apparently because she danced with her husband and used the phrase “booty poppin’” too many times (yes, someone actually counted).
But the Rankin case put her in rarified air among the small group of prosecutors to successfully convict a police officer for an on-duty killing. Even fewer have tried it twice. And as far as The Root could determine, there are zero cases of a prosecutor winning a murder or manslaughter conviction in the case of an on-duty police shooting and successfully indicting another officer in a separate case.
While that is hard to believe, considering the number of unarmed people killed by police each year, Morales says it has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with justice and fairness. Morales was selected by Portsmouth voters in a special election in 2015 and won reelection in 2017.
“At some point, we have to look at if the prosecutors are being fair,” Morales said. “And that has nothing to do with whether the community is progressive or conservative. If more prosecutors would stop looking at police homicides as something different than other homicides or shooting injury cases, there would be a shift in perspective. If we think that prosecuting criminals for violent crimes and sharing it with our communities has an impact on violence, then I think the same would be true for police officers.
“We should not try to protect [police officers] in a way that we would not do any other person that came before us,” Morales adds. That’s what fairness and justice is about.”