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Commonwealth's Attorney's Report on the Death of Kawanza Beaty

February 26, 2016

For Immediate Release

Newport News, Virginia

 
 

MEMORANDUM

The Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has completed its independent review of all available evidence from the July 4, 2015, shooting of Mr. Kawanza J. Beaty. As part of the investigation, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, along with members of his office, conducted extensive interviews with all identifiable witnesses who were willing to speak with them. This included all three police officers involved in the incident, civilian witnesses, the medical examiner, and forensic scientists. Additionally, the Commonwealth’s Attorney met with members of Mr. Beaty’s family, and publicly requested that anyone with information about the incident contact this office. That meeting, and the public appeal for information, did not yield any additional facts.

Virginia Law requires that the facts surrounding an officer’s use of deadly force be analyzed through the eyes of the officers involved. Couture v. Commonwealth, 656 S.E. 2d 425, 427 (Va. App. 2008). Therefore, this incident must be examined by considering what the officers knew in the moments leading up to the firearm discharge, and whether it was reasonable for the officer who discharged his firearm to believe that there was an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others.

SUMMARY OF THE FACTS

In the early morning hours of July 4, 2015, a reliable confidential informant reported to Newport News Detective Gibson that a dark skin black male, approximately 5’ 7” in height, with short dreads or braids, wearing a camouflage jacket and dark jeans, was walking near Stuart Gardens in the City of Newport News. He was with a second black male. The male in the camouflage jacket had a sawed-off shotgun. Possession of a sawed-off shotgun is illegal in Virginia, and is a felony pursuant to Virginia Code § 18.2-300. On July 3rd and July 4th, the informant communicated with Gibson numerous times by telephone, providing information regarding the man with the illegal sawed-off shotgun, including specific details about the gun itself.

This confidential informant has been working with the Newport News Police Department since October of 2013. The informant has provided accurate information that led to thirteen felony arrests, seven misdemeanor arrests, recovery of four unlawful firearms, apprehension of two fugitives, and seizure of cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics. The informant’s information is consistently reliable, and Gibson had personally worked with this informant on many cases.

After receiving the information about the men walking in the area of Stuart Gardens with an illegal shotgun, Gibson called for backup and met with the two officers who responded, Sergeant Sinclair and Master Police Officer Keller, at Anderson Park to plan a safe approach to the armed subject. Gibson requested that Keller, who is a certified K-9 handler, bring her dog in case the subject ran when he encountered the officers. All three officers were in uniform.

After planning their approach, the three officers went to Stuart Gardens but did not immediately locate the subjects. The officers then separated so that they could search nearby areas. The informant contacted Gibson again. He told Gibson that the two men were now walking north on Oak Avenue near 18th Street, and that the man in the camouflage jacket was carrying a sawed-off shotgun in the jacket’s sleeve. This man was Mr. Kawanza Beaty.

Gibson was first to arrive in the area of 18th Street and Oak Avenue, and observed two subjects matching the informant’s description. Mr. Beaty, who was wearing the camouflage jacket and holding his left arm stiff, appeared to have something in his sleeve. Suspecting Mr. Beaty had the illegal sawed-off shotgun described by the informant, Gibson got out of his vehicle and asked the two individuals to stop and talk to him. One of the men, identified as Emmanuel Dargan, stopped and waited on the sidewalk.

Mr. Beaty did not stop to talk, but continued to walk away from Gibson. Gibson walked up alongside Mr. Beaty and ordered him to stop as the backup officers began to arrive. Sergeant Sinclair arrived and approached on foot from behind Mr. Beaty. Moments later, Officer Keller arrived and approached on foot from in front of Mr. Beaty. When Keller arrived, Mr. Beaty took off running toward Peterson Place. Gibson and Sinclair immediately chased Mr. Beaty, while Keller went back to her vehicle to get her dog. After retrieving the dog, Keller did not release it from the leash because of the risk to the officers. Gibson, Sinclair, and Mr. Beaty were all running, so there was no clear target for the dog to pursue.

Mr. Beaty ran across Oak Avenue eastbound toward 18th Street pursued by Sinclair and Gibson. When Mr. Beaty was several yards from the back of a building located at 1631 Peterson Place, he lost his footing, caught himself with his hand, then instantly regained his balance and resumed running. At the time Mr. Beaty slipped, Gibson heard a metal clanking sound, while Sinclair saw the barrel of a gun partially emerge from Mr. Beaty’s camouflage jacket sleeve.

As Mr. Beaty reached the back of the building located at 1631 Peterson Place, Sinclair was close and directly behind him. Gibson, still pursuing from a short distance back, noticed that Mr. Beaty was now holding the shotgun by the grip. As Gibson reached the back of the building on Peterson Place, he positioned himself to one side of Mr. Beaty about 15 to 20 yards away, drew his department-issued firearm, and yelled, “drop the weapon.” Mr. Beaty began to turn in a counter-clockwise direction toward Sinclair.

From her position some distance away, Keller had seen Mr. Beaty start to turn in a counter-clockwise direction toward Sinclair, with the shotgun in his hand. Keller drew her department-issued firearm. Fearing Mr. Beaty would shoot the officers, Keller considered discharging her firearm, but was too far away and angled such that it was impossible to do so without potentially shooting Gibson or Sinclair. As Keller closed the distance between herself and Mr. Beaty, she heard the officers yell, “drop the weapon.” Mr. Beaty continued his counter-clockwise turn, raising the now fully visible illegal sawed-off shotgun toward Sinclair.

Sinclair was close enough to consider physically tackling Mr. Beaty, but as Mr. Beaty started the counter-clockwise turn, Sinclair saw the shotgun fully exposed from the jacket. Fearing he was about to be shot, Sinclair moved back a few steps, drew his department-issued firearm, and yelled, “drop the weapon.”
As Mr. Beaty was turning counter-clockwise to face Sinclair, Gibson was on Mr. Beaty’s left side and angled slightly behind him. Gibson saw the turn and saw Mr. Beaty raise the sawed-off shotgun toward Sinclair. Fearing that Mr. Beaty was about to shoot Sinclair, Gibson discharged his department-issued firearm three times from approximately 15–20 yards away.

Mr. Beaty took a couple of steps forward before falling facedown into the grass a few feet in front of Sinclair. The shotgun slid out of Mr. Beaty’s hands and landed on the grass ahead of him. Gibson and Sinclair assessed Mr. Beaty to provide first aid while Keller radioed for an ambulance. Medics arrived minutes later and pronounced him deceased at the scene.

Detectives later interviewed Emmanuel Dargan, the witness who had been walking with Mr. Beaty that evening. He admitted that the man he was walking with was Kawanza Beaty, and that Mr. Beaty had been carrying a sawed-off shotgun with a shortened stock in the sleeve of his camouflage jacket. Mr. Dargan also admitted that in the days leading up to the incident he had seen Mr. Beaty with the shotgun and shotgun shells. From his position waiting on Oak Avenue, Mr. Dargan heard the officers yell, “drop the weapon” three times and then heard the shots.

Detectives collected the shotgun and found that it was not loaded. No shotgun shells were found on or near Mr. Beaty, and no shells were recovered from the scene. A check of records from the National Crime Information Center revealed that the shotgun was reported stolen in 2013 from a residence in Hampton, Virginia. The shotgun was sent to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. The Certificates of Analysis reported that the Benelli Model Super Nova 12-Gauge Shotgun’s barrel had been shortened to a length of approximately 14 ½ inches, and that the stock of the shotgun had also been shortened, making the overall length of the shotgun approximately 28 inches. Laboratory testing confirmed that the shotgun was working and capable of firing 12-Gauge shotgun shells. The shotgun was also tested for fingerprints, but no prints of value were found.

The Virginia Department of Forensic Science analyzed swabs taken from the taped stock of the sawed-off shotgun to test for DNA. Due to the limited quantity of nuclear DNA obtained from the swabs, it was not suitable for analysis using the Powerplex 16 System for DNA amplification, which is the current standard test.  The Newport News Police Department then requested that the lab conduct additional DNA analysis using the YTSR system for amplification, which targets only male DNA. The Commonwealth’s Attorney received this second DNA analysis on January 5, 2016. According to this Certificate of Analysis, the lab found a Y-chromosome DNA mixture profile consisting of two males on the swabs taken from the taped stock of the shotgun. The lab compared that profile to the Y-chromosome DNA profile developed from Mr. Beaty’s known blood sample. Under this analysis, Mr. Beaty cannot be eliminated as the major contributor to the Y-chromosome profile developed from the shotgun swabs, nor can any of his male blood relatives. Due to the limited information obtained, the minor Y-chromosome DNA type developed is not suitable for comparison.

The Norfolk Office of the Virginia Chief Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and ruled that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head. The bullet entered the left side of the head, behind the left ear, and traveled slightly upward from left-to-right and from back-to-front. There was no exit wound; the bullet was recovered from inside the right temple. There was no soot or stippling around the entry wound, which indicates that in the absence of any intervening object, it was not an extremely close-range gunshot wound. There was no evidence of an intervening object. The bullet recovered at autopsy was sent to the laboratory along with the three .45 caliber cartridge casings recovered from the scene and Gibson’s department-issued .45 caliber firearm. Testing confirmed that all three cartridge casings and the bullet recovered at autopsy were discharged from Gibson’s department-issued firearm.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has  conducted a review of the Newport News Police Department’s file related to this case. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is currently monitoring this matter. It is our understanding that, following the resolution of the local criminal investigation, federal authorities will carefully review all available evidence and will determine whether federal action is appropriate. This is their standard practice.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

When a police officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to others, he may use deadly force to prevent that harm. Couture v. Commonwealth, 656 S.E. 2d 425, 427 (Va. App. 2008). An officer’s use of deadly force is justified when he perceives an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others. Lynn v. Commonwealth, 499 S.E.2d 1, 9 (Va. App. 1998); Couture, 656 S.E.2d at 427. If, based on the officer’s perspective, it reasonably appears that an imminent danger exists, even if there was no actual danger, his use of deadly force is justified based on what he would have believed at the time he fired. Couture, 656 S.E. 2d at 427. Therefore, the circumstances must be analyzed by examining what Gibson would have reasonably believed in the moments just prior to discharging his firearm.

Gibson had received several calls and texts from a reliable confidential informant. Gibson consented to a full search of his telephone and telephone records, which confirmed the communications between Gibson and the informant. The informant told Gibson that there was a dark skin black male, approximately 5’ 7” in height, with short dreads or braids, wearing a camouflage jacket and dark jeans, walking north on Oak Avenue near 18th Street with a second black male. The informant also told Gibson that the man in the camouflage jacket had a sawed-off shotgun hidden in his jacket sleeve. When Gibson arrived, he saw two men precisely matching the informant’s description. Gibson knew that possessing a sawed-off shotgun is illegal. Under Virginia Code §18.2-300, it is a Class 4 Felony to possess or use a sawed-off shotgun in the Commonwealth.

Gibson, Keller, and Sinclair all saw Mr. Beaty, who was wearing the camouflage jacket and walking with a stiff left arm. All three officers believed that he was carrying the illegal sawed-off shotgun, exactly as the reliable informant said. When Gibson told Mr. Beaty to stop, he ran. Officers gave Mr. Beaty multiple commands to stop and drop the weapon. Officers Sinclair and Keller confirmed these commands, as did Emmanuel Dargan, who heard the commands from his position on Oak Avenue where he was told to wait. Despite these repeated orders to stop and drop the weapon, Mr. Beaty continued to ignore the officers’ commands. The officers were attempting to detain him and investigate his unlawful possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Gibson, Keller, and Sinclair all saw Mr. Beaty point the illegal sawed-off shotgun toward Sinclair. All three officers reasonably feared that Mr. Beaty was about to shoot Sinclair when Gibson discharged his department-issued firearm.

Based on the uncontradicted facts and the law, considering the circumstances as they appeared to Detective Gibson, it is our opinion that he had a reasonable belief that Mr. Beaty posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to himself and Sergeant Sinclair. Consequently, Gibson’s use of deadly force in the tragic death of Mr. Beaty was justified by the facts and the law. This office will take no further action in this matter.

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