Police chief tries for immediate transparency after suspect’s death

Walter J. Brown III, 29, of Portsmouth (Photo courtesy family members of Brown)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth’s police chief has requested Virginia State Police take over the criminal investigation of a shooting where an officer killed a drug suspect.

The whole incident happened in about 15 minutes Tuesday afternoon. It began as a drug investigation near Southside Gardens apartment complex at Seventh and Madison streets. That’s where police say 29-year-old Walter J. Brown III, of Portsmouth, fled from detectives in a vehicle, leading officers on a five-mile chase.

Brown was eventually shot to death by one of three officers inside a home on Colin Drive. Police say officers struggled with Brown and tried to subdue him with a stun gun twice before the fatal shots were fired.

Just a few hours later, Portsmouth Police Chief Edward Hargis addressed the media’s questions and described the course of events that led to Brown being killed. He said he held the press conference so soon after the incident because of the national unrest related to officer-involved killings across the county.

“Normally, this press conference would be one or two days out after the incident, but because of some of the things that we’ve changed because of what’s going on around the country, here, just a couple hours after the incident, we’re trying to get the preliminary information out there to the public,” he said.

To be transparent and maintain public trust, Hargis made the request for state police to conduct the investigation of the fatal shooting, a police press release stated Wednesday.

Link: The President’s Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing

Hagris said the quick communication and external investigation were specific changes Portsmouth police made to their usual process of handling an officer-involved shooting. He said the changes were direct recommendations from a report released this month by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“A culture of transparency and accountability is necessary in order to build public trust and legitimacy. This will help ensure decision making is understood and in accord with stated policy,” a section of the report stated.

The report also recommended an “external and independent criminal investigation in cases of officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death.”

“Ever since the incidents around the country, I think every chief in the country has been concerned. And we’ve all begun to take steps to prepare, in case an incident of this nature had occurred,” Hargis said Tuesday night.

Chief Hargis said Portsmouth police quickly made the the NAACP aware of the incident Tuesday, and that it was in the context of several positive meetings the department recently had with the NAACP.

“So, all those deposits for building trust, now’s the time that we’re going to hopefully really see the investments that we’ve made to people, for folks to remain calm and wait for the investigation and wait for the final decisions to be made,” he said.

Portsmouth police will handle the administrative investigation of the incident, to see if policies were properly followed.

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