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SUMMARY OF THE FACTS - COREY ANTONIA MOODY
July 23, 2013
For Immediate Release
Newport News, Virginia
On December 12, 2012, Detectives Hollandsworth and Tinsely with the Newport News Police Department were partnered in an unmarked unit for street suppression after a recent homicide. On that day, Hollandsworth received information from DEA Agent Jenkins regarding Corey Antonia Moody. Moody was wanted on a federal warrant referencing dangerous drugs. Jenkins told Hollandsworth that Moody had been driving a blue BMW, license WXZ-7848, and had been seen in the area of Noland Green Apartments on Warwick Avenue, Newport News. Detective Hollandsworth confirmed with Central Dispatch that Moody’s federal warrant was active. Hollandsworth knew Moody from a prior arrest approximately a year or so before, involving narcotics and a firearm. Once detectives had visual contact with the vehicle, Hollandsworth ran the tags through NNPD Dispatch and verified that the vehicle was registered to Shirley Johnson, Moody’s mother. Hollandsworth and Tinsley were parked in the Probation and Parole parking lot and maintained surveillance on the vehicle. Detectives Gibson and Norris, riding together as a unit, were in the area.
From their vantage point, Hollandsworth and Tinsley could see the rear of the vehicle but not the driver. They waited for the driver to commit a traffic infraction in order to stop the car. They followed the vehicle and eventually the driver made a lane change without signaling. It was then that detectives decided to stop the vehicle. Hollandsworth called in the traffic stop.
Hollandsworth exited her vehicle to determine whether it was Moody driving. She went to the rear passenger side of the vehicle and was able to confirm it was Moody, and he was the sole occupant. At this time, Gibson and Norris arrived as back-up. Hollandsworth alerted the others that Moody was the driver. Hollandsworth moved to the rear driver side of the vehicle as Gibson moved up on the passenger side. Tinsley approached Moody at the driver’s window and told him to keep his hands on the steering wheel; Moody initially complied. Tinsley removed his handcuffs from his vest, reached in and grabbed Moody’s left wrist, and attempted to place the handcuff on Moody’s left wrist. Moody immediately jerked his left hand away and then reached toward the center console with both hands. Tinsley repeatedly commanded, “Don’t reach!” Tinsley did not know what Moody was reaching for. Tinsley leaned further into the vehicle to grab Moody’s shirt and arm but was not able to detain him. Moody grabbed the emergency brake and pushed the lever down while continuing to reach for something at the center console. Hollandsworth could hear Tinsley repeating the commands to Moody, “Don’t reach!” as Moody continued to struggle with Tinsley.
Hollandsworth observed Gibson draw his weapon. She could hear Gibson’s voice getting extremely agitated and yelling at Moody, “Don’t move! I told you don’t move!” She remained at the rear driver side of the vehicle while Gibson remained on the passenger side. Moody ignored the repeated commands and continued to reach his hands down and toward the center console. Based upon Tinsley’s actions, Gibson’s actions, and Moody’s continued movements and prior arrest involving a firearm and illegal drugs, Hollandsworth believed he had a gun and was going to shoot Tinsley. She drew her weapon and fired one shot. After she fired, she stopped to assess the situation and immediately heard two to three more shots from her right. The shot fired by Hollandsworth appears to have entered the left rear passenger window behind the driver’s seat, traveled through the driver’s headrest and penetrated the dashboard.
Simultaneously, Gibson heard Tinsley’s commands to Moody. Gibson observed the struggle between Tinsley and Moody; he saw Moody reach down and drop the emergency brake. Gibson believed that Moody intended to drive off. Gibson drew his weapon and ordered Moody to stop. Moody then continued to reach toward the center console area where the gear shift was located and put the vehicle into gear – shifting downward with his right hand. The vehicle lunged forward. Gibson saw Tinsley pulled with the car in a forward motion. Gibson stated he saw Tinsley falling and it looked as if he went below the window line of the car. Gibson was concerned that Tinsley would be run over or dragged by Moody. Gibson continued to command Moody to stop. As Moody was attempting to drive away, Gibson fired his weapon. Gibson fired a total of four times.
One shot fired by Gibson appears to have traveled through the right passenger window, hit Moody in the left thigh as a “through-and-through” wound, and exited the driver’s door. A second shot by Gibson hit the rear door frame and stopped. A third shot by Gibson entered the right rear passenger window, hit the edge of the front passenger seat, and struck Moody in the back. A fourth shot by Gibson entered the right rear passenger window, penetrated the front passenger headrest, and struck the steering wheel. This bullet was collected from the driver’s seat.
Tinsley was hit by multiple bullet fragments during this incident. He was struck on the right side of his face resulting in multiple lacerations as well as a fractured nose. Moody suffered a wound to his left thigh and one to his back. The wound to his back resulted in a spinal cord injury.
The issue presented is whether Detective Hollandsworth and Detective Gibson had the right to use deadly force in the defense of Detective Tinsley during the traffic stop of Corey Moody. It is well established that “a person asserting a claim of defense of others may do so only where the person to whose aid he or she went would have been legally entitled to defend himself or herself.” Foster V. Commonwealth, 13 Va. App. 380, 385, 412 S.E. 2d 198, 201 (1991). Further, the use of deadly force may be justified to defend another person when such person faces an imminent threat of serious bodily harm and such person was not at fault in bringing about the need to use deadly force. Lynn V. Commonwealth, 27 Va. App. 336 (1998), citing Foster at 385-86.
In this case, one must determine the scope of a police officer’s right to use deadly force in the defense of a fellow officer. The case of Couture v. Commonwealth, 51 Va. App. 239, 656 S.E.2d 425 (2008) is helpful in defining the applicable law. In Couture, a police officer was charged and tried for manslaughter for killing a suspect during a routine traffic stop. The trial court approved and the Court of Appeals cited the agreed upon jury instruction concerning a police officer’s right to use deadly force as follows:
You are instructed that when a police officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to that officer or others, it is legally permissible to use deadly force to prevent harm to one’s self or others and to prevent escape.
However, the amount of force used to defend oneself and prevent escape must not be excessive and must be reasonable in relation to the perceived threat. The use of deadly force is an act of necessity and the necessity must be shown to exist or there must be shown such reasonable apprehension of imminent danger, by some overt act, as to amount to the creation of necessity. The right to kill in self-defense begins when the necessity begins and ends when the necessity ends.
In this context, “imminent danger” is defined as an immediate and perceived threat to one’s safety or the safety of others.
A defendant must reasonably fear death or serious bodily harm to himself at the hands of his victim. It is not essential that the danger should in fact exist. If it reasonably appears to a defendant that the danger exists, he has the right to defend himself against it to the same extent, and upon the same rules, as would obtain in case the danger is real. A defendant may always act upon reasonable appearance of danger, and whether the danger is reasonably apparent is always to be determined from the viewpoint of the defendant at the time he acted.
Couture, 51 Va. App. at 244. As such, the legal analysis begins from the facts as they reasonably appeared to Detective Hollandsworth and Detective Gibson at the time they both fired their weapons.
Detective Hollandsworth had personal knowledge of Moody from a prior arrest involving narcotics and a firearm. She also knew that Moody was a convicted felon and had an outstanding federal warrant for dangerous drugs. From her viewpoint at the rear of the vehicle, she could see Moody reaching down and towards the center console as Tinsley repeatedly told Moody not to reach. Hollandsworth could see Tinsley struggling with Moody inside the car while telling him not to reach. She observed Gibson draw his weapon and could hear Gibson’s agitation increase as he screamed to Moody “Don’t move I tell you, don’t move.” Moody ignored these commands and continued to reach his hands down and toward the center console. Based on these factors, she feared for Tinsley’s safety and fired one shot into the vehicle. The shot fired by Hollandsworth did not hit Moody. Although it was later determined that Moody did not have a gun, the facts must be analyzed from the viewpoint of Detective Hollandsworth at the time she acted. Hollandsworth fired one shot into the vehicle and stepped back to assess the situation. At the time that she fired, Hollandsworth reasonably believed that Moody posed a serious threat of imminent physical harm to Tinsley. Given her knowledge of Moody’s history and the actions she observed by all those present, the amount of force used by Hollandsworth was not excessive because she believed that Moody was reaching for a gun to shoot Detective Tinsley.
Detective Gibson was also aware of Moody’s criminal history involving narcotics and a firearm, that Moody was a convicted felon, and that he had an outstanding federal warrant for dangerous drugs. Gibson heard Tinsley shouting at Moody not to reach. He observed Moody’s failure to follow Tinsley’s instructions and saw Moody reach down and release the emergency brake. Believing that Moody was about to drive away with Tinsley still leaning into the vehicle, Gibson drew his weapon and ordered Moody to stop. Gibson observed Moody reach toward the center console and shift the vehicle into gear. Moody failed to stop and the vehicle lunged forward. Gibson observed Tinsley go with the car in a forward motion. Gibson believed Tinsley was being dragged by the car’s forward movement and was in danger of being dragged further or being run over. Gibson fired his weapon. As the car was continuing to move, Gibson fired his weapon three more times. Rounds fired by Gibson wounded Moody. At the time Gibson fired his weapon, he believed Tinsley to be in imminent danger of serious bodily injury as a result of the continued forward movement of Moody’s vehicle. As such, from the viewpoint of Gibson, it was necessary to use deadly force to stop Moody from dragging or running over Detective Tinsley with his vehicle. Detective Gibson was justified in firing his weapon and injuring Moody in order to prevent serious physical injury to Detective Tinsley. The overt act of Moody moving his vehicle forward and dragging Tinsley with it created a reasonable apprehension of imminent danger to Detective Tinsley. Gibson ceased firing his weapon when it was evident that Moody’s vehicle was not accelerating away and Detective Tinsley was separated from Moody’s car. Under the circumstances as they appeared to Detective Gibson, the amount of force used was not excessive and was necessary to prevent Detective Tinsley from being dragged or run over by Moody’s car.
From the perspective of both Detective Hollandsworth and Detective Gibson, probable cause existed to believe that Corey Moody posed a threat of serious physical harm to Detective Tinsley and, therefore, the use of deadly force was legally permissible to prevent that harm. The amount of force used by each Detective was not excessive. Hollandsworth fired one shot. Gibson fired until the threat of serious physical harm to Tinsley ended. Moody sustained two non-lethal gunshot wounds during this incident. Both Detectives acted reasonably in relation to the immediate threat they perceived to Detective Tinsley’s safety based upon their prior knowledge of Moody and the circumstances observed on this occasion.
Therefore, it is the conclusion of the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Newport News that the Detectives involved in the shooting of Corey Moody were justified in their use of force and that no criminal charges will be pursued against them.