Prosecutors walk a delicate line in determining whether or not to charge a police officer in a fatal shooting. Facing pressure from the public and police, they must navigate a legal system designed to shield officers from criminal liability and arrive at an answer that fulfills their duty to the truth.
In the face of increased scrutiny over police killings in the past year, critics say many prosecutors are failing in this mandate. While prosecutors often claim they'll "go where the facts lead them,” that path usually ends with the conclusion that officers used deadly force legally, even in cases in which the suspect was unarmed or shot in the back.
The issue became a topic of mainstream debate last November, when Robert McCulloch, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri, announced that a grand jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown in August 2014.
McCulloch was in charge of presenting that case to a grand jury, and in secret proceedings, he had full discretion over which witnesses were brought forth, as well as the manner in which they were cross-examined. Critics pointed to McCulloch's previous support for law enforcement and accused him of assembling a grand jury to make it look like an independent panel had cleared Wilson.
Advocates for police reform say it's time we took a closer look at the relationship between prosecutors and police. While prosecutors may characterize their findings to the public or grand jury as matters of objective fact, they’re often shaped, consciously or unconsciously, by external factors, including political implications, general sympathy for police and the presumption that a judge or jury might view the charges unfavorably in a criminal trial.
Since Ferguson, prosecutors have announced decisions in 31 cases involving police who have fatally shot unarmed civilians. Police officers did not face charges in 19 of these cases -- but in 12 cases, they did. Those numbers show that while police officers are still more likely to avoid criminal liability when they fatally shoot civilians, a number of prosecutors are willing to indict them.
To get a better sense of prosecutors' considerations when they decide whether to charge an officer with a crime, it's helpful to look at the reasoning they cite, as well as the determinations themselves.
Prosecutors who declined to indict police officers in the cases below were not necessarily influenced by politics or a pro-police bias. Sometimes, the evidence simply supported an officer's justification for using lethal force -- or else, the lack of evidence made it impossible to prove that force was unjustified. Other times, prosecutors made such vague announcements and revealed so few details about their investigation that it was hard to further unpack their determinations.
In their remarks, prosecutors regularly pointed to the letter of the law to suggest there was no other possible conclusion in the case. Others made it clear that the question of the indictment hung entirely on an officer's narrative about what they thought they saw, or believed they were responding to, at the time -- which is typical, due to the high legal standard for establishing that an officer was unjustified in using deadly force. Many statements also appeared to shift blame back to the person who was killed by police.
You'll also notice the difference in tone between some of the prosecutors who did and did not choose to pursue charges. But ultimately, we’ll let them describe, in their own words, why they did or did not choose to charge a police officer for fatally shooting an unarmed civilian.
John Chisholm, Milwaukee County district attorney
On Dec. 22, 2014, Chisholm released a statement declaring that former Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney, who is white, would not face charges in the April fatal shooting of 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton, who was black. The two men fought in a park after Manney confronted Hamilton for illegally sleeping in the area and attempted to pat him down. Hamilton reportedly gained control of Manney's baton during the struggle, leading the officer to shoot.
This was a tragic incident for the Hamilton family and for the community. But, based on all the evidence and analysis presented in this report, I come to the conclusion that Officer Manney’s use of force in this incident was justified self-defense and that defense cannot be reasonably overcome to establish a basis to charge Officer Manney with a crime.
Manney was later fired after he was found to have violated Milwaukee Police Department rules during the encounter. He has appealed that decision.
Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County district attorney
On Feb. 23, Lacey announced that her office would not charge three Los Angeles Police Department officers in the December 2013 fatal shooting of 51-year-old Brian Beaird after an hour-long, high-speed pursuit that ended on live television.
All of the involved ofﬁcers were aware that Beaird had engaged in an hour long vehicle pursuit with multiple law enforcement agencies. The primary unit had broadcast repeatedly that Beaird was reaching under the seat of his car and possibly arming himself. Beaird's actions after the collision included additional movement consistent with arming himself. Beaird's failure to comply with commands, and specifically moving his hand toward his waist area when he was ordered to put his hands up, further bolstered the shooting officers' contention that they were reasonably in fear when they initially fired. Based on the totality of the circumstances, a jury could conclude that the use of deadly force ... was justified or, alternatively, find that a lack of justification was not established beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before Lacey's statement, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck had found the officers to be in violation of departmental policy on deadly force, writing that a number of the bullets had struck Beaird while he was turned away from police. It's unclear how the officers were disciplined, if at all. The city ultimately settled with Beaird's family for $5 million following a wrongful death suit.
Amy Beavers, county attorney for Des Moines, Iowa
On Feb. 27, Beavers released a statement concluding that Jesse Hill, a police officer in Burlington, Iowa, would not face charges in the January fatal shooting of 34-year-old Autumn Steele. Hill killed Steele in what was determined to be an accident, after he attempted to shoot Steele's dog, which was off the leash and attacking Hill.
Therefore, based on my review of the case within the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and a full review of the facts and circumstances provided to me concerning the death of Mrs. Autumn Steele, it is determined that no criminal charges against [Hill] are supported by the evidence. [Hill] was faced with the decision to shoot in an instant. He had to process the situation alone, and made the decision at the time the threat was occurring.
Hill later returned to active duty.
Willie Meggs, Florida state attorney
On Feb. 27, Meggs expressed his support for a Leon County grand jury's decision that there was not probable cause to charge Tallahassee, Florida, police officer David Stith in the fatal shooting of Jeremy Lett earlier that month. Stith is black, as was Lett. Stith was off-duty, but responding to a burglary call when he encountered Lett in a confrontation that reportedly turned physical.
"That's what police officers do -- they go to trouble. Well this one went south relatively quick," Meggs said. "The defendant in the case was clearly not cooperating."
Don Kleine, attorney for Douglas County, Nebraska
On March 11, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine declared his support for a grand jury's finding that there wasn't probable cause to charge Omaha, Nebraska, police officer Alvin Lugod in the fatal February shooting of 39-year-old Danny Elrod. Kleine explained how the law supported Lugod, even though he shot Elrod in the back as he attempted to scale a fence.
"I can't really talk about the grand jury process (or) what took place in the grand jury," Kleine told KETV at the time. "But ... the use of deadly force law is very specific. In order to use deadly force you have to be -- someone has to be a threat to you from the standpoint of deadly force, or at least you're in fear of imminent harm to yourself or someone else. Even if you are mistaken, it says as long as you are acting reasonably on your beliefs as you have them, then you're justified in what you do."
Lugod later resigned from the Omaha police force, following an internal investigation.
Terry Modesitt, prosecutor for Vigo County, Indiana
On March 27, Modesitt announced that he would not pursue charges against Terre Haute, Indiana, police officer Kurt Brinegar in the February fatal shooting of Alexander Phillip Long. Brinegar shot Long following a long police chase, and claimed that Long had reached into his jacket, leading officers to believe he had a weapon.
In a release, Modesitt said Brinegar's actions were “legally justified use of force under Indiana law,” calling them “consistent with exercising self-defense or defense of another to prevent serious bodily injury or death or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Ismael Ozanne, district attorney for Dane County, Wisconsin
On May 12, Ozanne held a press conference in which he said his office wouldn't press charges against Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who is white, in the March fatal shooting of 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr., who was biracial. Kenny confronted Robinson inside a house, at which time he claimed the teen attacked him.
"I conclude that this tragic and unfortunate death was the result of a lawful use of deadly police force and that no charges should be brought against Officer Kenny in the death of Tony Robinson Jr.," he said.
Robinson's mother later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Kenny and the Madison Police Department, alleging her son's constitutional rights had been violated. Attorneys for the Kenny and the city have made a motion to have the suit dismissed.
Dan Patterson, prosecuting attorney for Greene County, Missouri
On May 15, Patterson announced that Springfield, Missouri, police officer Andrew Bath wouldn't face criminal charges in the February shooting death of 31-year-old Michael Ireland. Bath confronted Ireland in an alley, following a short foot pursuit in which Ireland had attempted to flee a traffic stop. Bath claimed that Ireland was reaching for his waistband while on the ground after Bath struck him with a stun gun.
Under the totality of the circumstances, Officer Bath had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and the authority to pursue and detain Michael Ireland. Further, Officer Bath had no duty to retreat during the confrontation with Michael Ireland. Finally under the totality of the circumstances, Officer Bath reasonably believed that his use of deadly force was necessary to protect himself against the imminent danger of death or serious physical injury at the hands of Michael Ireland. Accordingly, under Missouri law, Officer Bath's use of deadly force was a justified use of deadly force in self-defense and not a criminal act.
The city of Springfield later agreed to pay a $250,000 settlement to close a wrongful death suit filed by Ireland's family.
Larry Moore, chief prosecutor for Tarrant County, Texas
On May 18, Moore said that a Tarrant County grand jury had declined to indict Grapevine police officer Robert Clark, who is white, in the February fatal shooting of 31-year-old Mexican national Ruben Garcia Villalpando. Clark shot Villalpando during a traffic stop following a short vehicle pursuit. Released dashcam video shows Villalpando exiting his vehicle and refusing commands to stop walking slowly toward Clark's cruiser, with his hands above his head. The two fatal shots, however, took place out of view of the camera.
"The grand jurors were given complete and open access to all the evidence in this case, included cell phone videos, the dash cam video from Officer Clark's vehicle, witness statements, police records and reports, and any additional information that they requested," said Moore, whose office was tasked with presenting the case to the jurors. "They heard testimony from witnesses representing both Mr. Villalpando and Officer Clark. The attorneys representing Officer Clark and the Villalpando family were also given the opportunity to directly address the grand jury, should they wish to do so."
Moore said his office had made no specific recommendation in the case.
In September, Villalpando's wife filed a wrongful death suit, alleging that the shooting was "totally unnecessary."
Mitch Morrissey, district attorney in Denver, Colorado
On June 5, Morrissey released a decision declaring that a pair of Denver police officers shouldn't face criminal charges in the fatal January shooting of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was Hispanic. Hernandez was in a stolen vehicle and allegedly driving it toward officers when she was killed.
I have reviewed the entire investigation to determine whether to file criminal charges and I have concluded that no criminal charges should be filed. The facts show this was a defensive shooting by both officers. That is, their decisions to shoot Ms. Hernandez were justifiable in light of the manner in which she drove the car in close and dangerous proximity to them, threatening the life of Officer Jordan who had little room to avoid the car. The facts show that the force used by both officers was legally justified, and not unlawful, under Colorado law.
The Denver Police Department later announced that they would stop shooting at moving cars, since it typically doesn't stop a suspect who is driving toward them. By doing so, the departments now falls in line with Department of Justice recommendations on firing upon moving vehicles.
Doug Lloyd, prosecuting attorney for Eaton County, Michigan
On June 18, Lloyd announced that Eaton County Sheriff's Sergeant Jonathan Frost would not face charges in the February fatal shooting of 17-year-old Deven Guilford. The two allegedly got into a physical altercation after Frost tried to arrest Guilford for refusing to show his identification during a traffic stop.
Upon review of the investigation conducted by the Michigan State Police, the Office of the Eaton County Prosecutor, Doug Lloyd, has determined that the evidence' shows that Sgt. Frost acted in a lawful manner, and was reasonable in using deadly force to defend against the physical attack of him by Deven Guilford. While, in retrospect, both Deven and Sgt. Frost could have made different choices, ultimately this tragedy would not have occurred if Deven Guilford had not physically attacked Sgt. Frost.
Guilford's family has filed a federal lawsuit against Frost and the county, alleging wrongful death and a violation of the teen's civil rights.
Vic Reynolds, district attorney for Cobb County, Georgia
On July 9, Reynolds announced that he'd accepted a grand jury's recommendation that no charges be filed against Smyrna police officer Kenneth Owens, who is white, in the fatal March shooting of 23-year-old Nicholas Thomas, who was black. Police were reportedly trying to take Thomas into custody for a probation violation when he attempted to flee in a vehicle. The lethal round struck Thomas in the back, and was reportedly fired as he drove past officers in a parking lot.
“The loss of life is unfortunate, and I sincerely sympathize with Mr. Thomas’s survivors," Reynolds said in a statement. "But when he drove the vehicle toward officers in the manner he did, the officer who fired the shots was justified under the law to use lethal force. Police officers in Georgia are authorized to fire their weapons to protect themselves or others from immediate bodily harm. That is what happened in this case.”
Brad Berry, district attorney for Yamhill County, Oregon
On July 16, Berry held a news conference in which he said that Yamhill County deputy Richard Broyles was justified in the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Kevin Lamont Judson earlier that month, following an alleged altercation inside a police cruiser. Broyles is white and Judson was black.
"Deputy Broyles at the time he fired his weapon was reasonably in fear for his own life. He too, reasonably believed that to allow Judson to flee in the patrol vehicle, based on all that had transpired, could pose a significant threat to the community," Berry wrote in a press release.
Mark Lindquist, prosecuting attorney for Pierce County, Washington
On July 23, Lindquist announced that two Lakewood, Washington, police officers would not face criminal charges for the April fatal shooting of Daniel Isaac Covarrubias, a 37-year-old Hispanic man killed after pulling out a dark object that turned out to be a cell phone.
"The officers’ actions were in response to a perceived deadly threat," said Lindquist in a statement. "The loss of life here is regrettable and apparently due to a combination of circumstances, mental health issues and drugs, including methamphetamine."
Kym Worthy, prosecutor for Wayne County, Michigan
On Aug. 19, Worthy outlined her decision that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Mitchell Quinn would not face charges in the April fatal shooting of 20-year-old Terrance Kellom, who was allegedly holding a hammer at the time of his death. His family has disputed that claim.
"Terrance Kellom's fatal shooting was justified by the law of self-defense and the defense of others," said Worthy. "And as a result, no charges will be authorized against Agent Quinn in this case."
John Sarcone, attorney for Polk County, Iowa
On Aug. 26, Sarcone expressed support for a grand jury's decision not to indict Des Moines, Iowa, police officer Vanessa Miller in the June fatal shooting of 28-year-old Ryan Bollinger. Miller shot Bollinger through the window of her cruiser as he approached on foot following a low-speed vehicle chase.
"After reviewing every piece of available evidence, they decided not to indict," Sarcone said, calling the decision "very fair."
Shawn Sant, prosecuting attorney for Franklin County, Washington
On Sept. 9, Sant said he had determined that a trio of officers acted "in good faith and without malice" when they fatally shot Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old Mexican man, who had reportedly been throwing rocks at police and vehicles. Video of the incident appeared to show Zambrano-Montes turning back toward police after leading them on a short foot chase.
A day after the announcement, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) asked the state attorney general's office to review Sant's decision.
Zambrano-Montes' family has since filed a $25 million wrongful death suit against the officers, the city of Pasco, Washington, and the Pasco Police Department.
R.J. Larizza, Florida state attorney
On Oct. 21, Larizza said a grand jury had determined that Volusia County deputy Todd Raible should not face charges for fatally shooting 26-year-old Derek Cruice during a marijuana raid in March. Larizza's office had presented the case to the grand jury in secret proceedings.
“After two days of testimony and in deliberation, the grand jury declined to indict Deputy Raible on a manslaughter by culpable negligence charge,” said Larizza.
Larizza also admitted that his decision to refer the case to a grand jury might be criticized as an effort to shield himself "politically."
Chrissy Adams, solicitor for South Carolina's 10th Judicial Circuit
On Oct. 28, Adams announced that she would not pursue charges against Seneca, South Carolina, police officer Mark Tiller for the fatal killing of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond during an undercover marijuana sting in July. Tiller claimed Hammond was trying to run him over when he shot him through the driver's side window. Adams said a dashcam video Tiller's cruiser confirmed the officer's fears.
What happened during this encounter is a tragedy. No parent should ever have to bury their child. I am also cognizant of the fact that no officer ever wants to shoot and kill another human being. Officers are thrust into extremely dangerous situations every day and are at risk of losing their lives at the hands of violent criminals. When officers lawfully order citizens to stop, and they refuse as Zachary Hammond did, everyone loses. Zachary Hammond failed to comply with Lt. Tiller's orders and as a result he lost his life. When Hammond made the conscious decision to flee a lawful stop he set in motion this tragic chain of events. It is my conclusion that under applicable law Lt. Tiller's actions do not rise to the level of criminal responsibility.
Hammond's parents have said they plan to file a wrongful death suit.
The prosecutors below all decided to press charges against officers who fatally shot unarmed civilians.
Kari Brandenburg, district attorney for Bernalillo County, New Mexico
On Jan. 12, Brandenburg announced that her office had charged two Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officers with murder in the fatal shooting of 38-year-old James Boyd, a homeless man killed by police in March 2014, following an hours-long standoff in the foothills outside of the city. Boyd was in possession of two knives at the time of his death, though video of the incident suggests he didn't brandish them until police fired a flash-bang grenade and released a K9 unit as he appeared to be surrendering.
"In this case, we do believe we have probable cause [to charge the officers], and thus we are going forward on a preliminary hearing," Brandenburg said at a news conference. She later explained that the evidence against the officers would be presented at a preliminary hearing, or as she put it, a "mini-trial, where evidence is heard in ... open court," and "the defense can cross-examine and present their own testimony, and then a judge will make a decision." The hearing took place over the summer, and in August, a judge decided that the two officers will stand trial on charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and battery.
Months after fatally shooting Boyd, Keith Sandy, a detective with the Albuquerque Police Department, announced his retirement. Dominique Perez, a member of the SWAT team who also fired some of the fatal rounds, is still employed by the department. If the they are convicted on the highest charge of second-degree murder, they face up to 16 years in prison.
Brandenburg has since been removed from the case following a judge's decision that her office's prosecution could present a conflict of interest due to her own legal troubles. In April, Brandenburg said she feared for her safety following alleged warnings from police in Albuquerque.
In July, Boyd's family reached a $5 million settlement with the city of Albuquerque in a wrongful death suit.
Neal Johnson, assistant district attorney for Ouachita Parish, Louisiana
On Jan. 16, Johnson announced the district attorney's office had accepted a Ouachita Parish grand jury's decision to file negligent homicide charges against Jody LeDoux, a police officer in West Monroe, Louisiana, for the fatal December 2014 shooting of 51-year-old Raymond Martinez. LeDoux claims he thought Martinez was reaching for a gun inside of a newspaper rack when he opened fire.
A Ouachita Parish Grand Jury returned an indictment today for 1 count of negligent homicide against West Monroe Police officer Jody Ledoux arising out of the December 4 shooting of Raymond Martinez. The case was presented by a combined effort by the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office and the Louisiana Attorney General's Office, together with the investigation by the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office.
LeDoux has since pleaded not guilty to the charge. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail.
Kenneth Thompson, district attorney for Kings County, New York
On Feb. 11, Thompson announced that he'd accepted a grand jury's decision to charge New York Police Department officer Peter Liang, a Chinese-American, in the Nov. 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old black man, during a police sweep of a Brooklyn public housing project. Gurley had just entered a darkened stairwell in the building when Liang and his partner confronted him. Liang fired a single shot, which ricocheted off the wall and struck Gurley.
Shortly after the tragic death of Akai Gurley in a stairwell of the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn, I promised to conduct a full and fair investigation to get to the bottom of what happened that night. I can now report that the District Attorney’s Office has completed a thorough investigation into this matter ...
As a result of the investigation a grand jury has returned a six-count indictment charging New York City Police Department Officer Peter Liang with one count of second-degree manslaughter, one count of criminally negligent homicide, one count of second-degree assault, one count of reckless endangerment and two counts of official misconduct.
Liang, still employed by the NYPD, has since pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is set to begin in January. If found guilty of the most serious offense of second-degree manslaughter, Liang faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Gurley's family has also filed a wrongful death suit against Liang, his partner and the New York City Housing Authority.
Jim Hood, Mississippi attorney general
On March 27, Hood announced that his office had accepted a Bolivar County grand jury's finding that Walter Grant, a former Bolivar County Sheriff's deputy, should face manslaughter charges in the March 2013 fatal shooting of 20-year-old Willie Lee Bingham Jr. In a statement, the attorney general's office referred to the shooting as "unnecessary."
Grant is black, and so was Bingham. Bingham was shot in the back of the head while fleeing Grant, who had confronted a him as part of a group of suspects in a string of burglaries. Grant said he believed Bingham was armed.
Stephen Kunzweiler, district attorney for Tulsa County, Oklahoma
On April 13, Kunzweiler released a statement of charges against Tulsa County Sheriff's reserve deputy Robert Bates in the fatal shooting of Eric Harris earlier that month. Bates is white and Harris was black. Bates claimed he made a mistake and was meaning to reach for his stun gun during the confrontation, but instead drew a .38-caliber handgun and fired it once into Harris' back.
"Mr. Bates is charged with Second-Degree Manslaughter involving culpable negligence. Oklahoma law defines culpable negligence as ‘the omission to do something which a reasonably careful person would do, or the lack of the usual ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions," Kunzweiler said in the statement. "The defendant is presumed to be innocent under the law, but we will be prepared to present evidence at future court hearings."
The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office had previously conducted its own investigation into the incident, concluding that "Bates did not commit a crime" and portraying him as a victim. Bates pleaded not guilty in July and will go before a jury trial set to begin in February. He faces up to four years in jail if convicted.
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz recently resigned his post amid numerous allegations of impropriety, including claims of misconduct surrounding his handling of the Bates case.
Ed Marsico, district attorney for Dauphin County, Pennsylvania
On March 24, Marsico said his office had concluded that Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, police officer Lisa Mearkle should face charges of criminal homicide in the February fatal shooting of 59-year-old David Kassick. Mearkle shot Kassick twice in the back while he was lying on the ground. She says she fired because she believed he was reaching into his jacket for a weapon.
“We realize police officers place their lives on the lines every day, but an officer can only use deadly force when it is necessary,” Marsico said in a statement.
Donnie Myers, solicitor for South Carolina's Eleventh Circuit
On May 27, Myers announced that an Edgefield County grand jury had returned an indictment for Justin Gregory Craven, a white police officer in North Augusta, South Carolina, in the February 2014 fatal shooting of 68-year-old black motorist Ernest Satterwhite. Craven shot Satterwhite through the driver's side window after he approached Satterwhite's vehicle following a lengthy pursuit. Craven said he was "in fear of his life" when Satterwhite allegedly reached for his gun.
While the grand jury concluded that there wasn't probable cause to charge Craven with voluntary manslaughter, the panel did recommend a felony charge of discharging his weapon into an occupied vehicle, as well as another misdemeanor charge for official misconduct in office.
“[Craven] had a right to carry a pistol, he had no right to shoot an unarmed man in a vehicle,” Myers said. “Anything as to self defense would be a jury issue.”
If convicted of the felony weapons charge, Craven faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. The City of North Augusta and Edgefield County have already agreed to pay a $1.2 million settlement in a wrongful death suit filed by Satterwhite's family.
Scarlett Wilson, solicitor for South Carolina's Ninth Circuit
On June 8, Wilson announced that a Charleston County grand jury had returned an indictment for first-degree murder charges against former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who is white, in the April fatal shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was black. Slager had initially been charged with murder shortly after the shooting, in which bystander video showed him opening fire as Scott attempted to flee on foot.
"The facts that were presented to us by [the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] warranted our seeking the indictment from the grand jury, and we'll just move forward now in preparing our case," Wilson said at a press conference.
Slager was fired from the North Charleston Police Department after the murder charges were announced in April. He remains in jail after being denied release on bond.
In October, the city of Charleston reached a $6.5 million settlement with Scott's family.
Gregory Underwood, commonwealth's attorney for Norfolk, Virginia
On June 12, Underwood's office announced that a special grand jury had found probable cause to charge Norfolk, Virginia, police officer Michael Edington Jr. with voluntary manslaughter for the June 2014 fatal shooting of David Latham, a 35-year-old black man. The nine-member panel rejected other charges, including second-degree murder. Underwood had empaneled the jury to consider the matter, and Latham's mother claims he told her he believed the shooting wasn't justified.
Edington was responding to a 911 call from a member of Latham's family who claimed Latham had threatened them with a knife. Latham, who suffered from mental illness and had frequent interactions with police, was still carrying the knife when Edington arrived, and refused commands to drop it. Police maintain he threatened Edington with the weapon before the fatal shots were fired. Edington ultimately shot Latham six times, including twice in the back.
Edington was booked shortly after the announcement of the indictment and released on bond. He remains on administrative duty pending the conclusion of the criminal case. A trial date has not yet been set.
If convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Edington faces a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Latham's family filed a wrongful death suit shortly after his death in 2014.
Joe Deters, prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County, Ohio
On July 30, Deters announced murder charges for now-former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, who is white, in the July fatal shooting of 43-year-old black motorist Sam DuBose.
In body camera footage, Tensing could be seen shooting DuBose through the driver's side window during a traffic stop. After a short conversation, DuBose was seen turning his key in the ignition, leading Tensing to reach his arm into the vehicle. Tensing claimed he fired because DuBose had begun to drive off, dragging him and causing him to fear for his life. Deters said the video refuted that account.
"It's an absolute tragedy that anyone would behave in this manner," Deters said in a news conference. "It was senseless. It's just horrible. ... He purposefully killed him."
Tensing was released on bond shortly after pleading not guilty to the charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter. He faces a sentence of life in prison if he's found guilty of murder.
Tensing was also fired from the University of Cincinnati police force shortly after charges were announced, though a police union has filed a grievance to get him his job back if he's ultimately found not guilty.
Raymond Morrogh, commonwealth’s attorney for Fairfax, Virginia
On Aug. 17, Morrogh returned a special grand jury's indictment on second-degree murder charges for former Fairfax, Virginia, police officer Adam Torres in the August 2013 fatal shooting of 46-year-old John Geer.
Torres shot and killed Geer while he stood in the doorway of his home during a tense standoff with officers, in which Geer reportedly produced a handgun. When Torres fired the single fatal shot at Geer, however, Geer's gun was holstered and at his feet. Torres claimed he'd seen Geer reach down toward his waist, causing him to believe he was going for a weapon. But other officers and witnesses said that Geer's hands were above his waist when Torres opened fire.
“I’m not permitted to characterize the case under the rules governing me as a prosecutor,” Morrogh said, according to The Washington Post. “I’m grateful to the grand jury for their attention and taking time out of their personal lives to do this.”
The Fairfax Police Department fired Torres in August, shortly before the announcement of an indictment and nearly two years after Geer's death. His trial is set to begin in December, and he remains in jail without the possibility of bond. If convicted of second-degree murder, Torres faces a maximum of 40 years in prison.
In April, Fairfax County agreed to a nearly $3 million settlement to close a wrongful death suit filed by Geer's family.
Stephanie Morales, commonwealth’s attorney for Portsmouth, Virginia
On Sept. 3, Morales announced that a grand jury had returned an indictment for former Portsmouth, Virginia, police officer Stephen Rankin on charges of first-degree murder for the fatal April shooting of 18-year-old William Chapman. Rankin is white and Chapman was black.
Rankin confronted Chapman in a Walmart parking while responding to a report of a shoplifter. A physical altercation reportedly ensued, and Rankin shot Chapman twice. An autopsy showed that Chapman was struck twice in the face and chest, but that the gunshots were not fired at close range.
“I submit to you that it is paramount for everyone to respect the judicial process," said Morales at a news conference. "The office of the commonwealth's attorney will prosecute this matter diligently in the circuit court for the city of Portsmouth and not in the court of public opinion or of the media.”
The Portsmouth Police Department fired Rankin shortly after charges were announced. His case attracted particularly scrutiny because a grand jury had previously cleared him in a 2011 incident in which he fatally shot another unarmed man, Kirill Denyakin, a Kazakhstani man.
Rankin's trial is set for February, where he'll also face a charge of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. If convicted of first-degree murder, Rankin faces potential life in prison.
This story has been updated to reflect Lisa Mearkle's acquittal.