Jury: Norfolk officer not guilty of manslaughter

Norfolk cop found not guilty of manslaughter

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- A jury has found a Norfolk police officer not guilty in the 2014 death of a mentally ill man.

"Just two and a half years of waiting for this weight to be off my shoulders," Michael Edington said outside court, with tears running down his face. "I have my life back."

Edington was charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of David Latham. He faced one to 10 years in prison had he been convicted.

Prosecutors argued that Latham held the knife at his side without advancing toward Edington. The officer shot him several times.

Edington testified that Latham threatened violence, moved the knife and made a small step as if to attack.

Latham suffered from schizophrenia and was off his medication. His family called 911 after he grabbed a knife during an argument.

When asked if he had anything to say to the Latham family, Edington responded, "I don't have any comment on that."

One of Edington's attorneys, Jeffrey Swartz, offered condolences to the family.

"June 6th 2014 was a tragedy for the Latham family, it was a tragedy for this young man," said Swartz. "A jury found that he acted appropriately, but he will carry this for the rest of his life. Although we are grateful to the jury and our system that we got the right result. Our hearts still go out to the Latham family."

Following the acquittal, Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Gregory D. Underwood did not give on camera interviews, but issued the following statement:

Our duty is to seek justice and that's what we've done through this case.  While there are officer-involved shootings in Norfolk which should be and have been determined by this Office to be a justified use of force, this matter – with contradictory information about what occurred – was not one where I could reach that conclusion after a thorough legal review.  While this is not the outcome we sought, we are pleased this matter was heard by and decided by Norfolk citizens in an appropriate public forum via the jurors in this jury trial.  In addition, Norfolk citizens evaluated this case through the Special Grand Jury process.  We certainly understand this verdict may be especially difficult for The Latham Family.  It’s our sincere hope they’re comforted by their faith, family, and friends now and going forward."

After hearing the verdict, Underwood shook Edington's hand and said, "Congratulations, I wish you well."

The Latham family did not make it to the court in time before the judge read the verdict.

During a press conference at their home, the family's spokesman and community activist Michael Muhammad said the family was "obviously very disappointed in the verdict. They're disappointed that family members that were present [during the trial] and witnesses were not able to give their testimony."

Muhammad then added, "They feel as though there's been tremendous cover up from within the department as it relates to this investigation. And for that reason, they will be pursuing a federal probe from a civil rights perspective."

The family has filed a $9 million lawsuit against Edington.

The jury spent a day and a half deliberating before reaching their verdict on Thursday afternoon.

At one point during deliberations on Thursday, the jury asked a question about the judge's instructions: "Does the phrase 'overt act' refer to a single act or one or more acts in the totality of the circumstances?"

"Overt act" is essentially what Latham did to provoke Edington to shoot in self-defense.

The prosecution told jurors this is a very narrow issue: What was Latham doing at the time he was shot? The Commonwealth's Attorney says he was standing still with knife pointed down, not threatening anyone.

However, the defense said Latham took a step. The defense also wanted the jury to consider the big picture: a mentally ill man, unstable and off his meds, threatening family members with a butcher knife.

During closing arguments, Underwood also targeted Sgt. Daryl Jarvis, the lead homicide detective in the case, for "spoon feeding" Edington answers during interrogations to make the shooting seem justified.

"The boys in blue... they're going to circle the wagons and protect their own," Underwood said to the jury.

Lyn Swartz, an attorney representing Edington, called the comment "outrageous" because "it goes to the very integrity of the Norfolk Police Department."

The police department did not immediately respond for a comment on the verdict.

Edington is currently assigned to administrative duty, but said outside court he wants to continue on as a police officer.

"It's something that I'm passionate about."


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