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Hampton Roads police rarely charged in fatal shootings

13News Now tracked the outcome of every fatal police shooting in Hampton Roads since 2017.

NORFOLK, Va. — The indictment this month of a former Portsmouth Police officer for an on-duty shooting death is a rare occurrence.

A 13News Now investigation found only one other instance in the past six years of an on-duty police shooting ending in charges.

We tracked all 19 fatal police shootings across the seven cities between 2017 and today.

Local Commonwealth’s Attorneys ruled 12 of those justified and filed charges against police in two of those incidents. Five of the more recent cases are still pending review.

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Vincent McClean, a former Portsmouth Police officer, was indicted last week for the 2018 shooting death of 28-year-old Willie Rogers Marable.

It’s only the second time in recent memory that a police shooting in Hampton Roads has ended with an officer being charged.

“The vast majority of these cases, the officers are found legally justified in using deadly force and they do not face any criminal charges,” said Dr. Philip Stinson. He is a Bowling Green University professor and has spent years studying this very topic.

“Since 2005, we’ve only seen 173 cases where an officer has been charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting,” Dr. Stinson said.

Stinson found only 55 officers convicted since 2005 in the United States. In many cases, it is often for a lesser offense than murder.

That happened recently in Newport News.

Albin Pearson, a police sergeant at the time, and Dwight Pitterson, an officer, were both charged in the December 2019 shooting death of 43-year-old Henry Kistler Berry III.

A jury found Pearson guilty of voluntary manslaughter, while another jury acquitted Pitterson of all charges, including malicious wounding.

A judge gave the former police sergeant the maximum sentence of 11 years in prison, five of which will be suspended if he has good behavior. 

The Pearson conviction marks only the 9th time since 2005 that a police officer has been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which was a downgrade from his original charge of second-degree murder.

“It’s very difficult for jurors to convict an officer because jurors do not want to second guess the split-second life or death decisions of on-duty police officers in violent street encounters. They just don’t want have to be put in that position,” Dr. Stinson said.

Virginia law outlines specific instances when deadly force is justifiable.

It is up to Commonwealth’s Attorneys to review the facts of these investigations and apply them to Virginia Code and ultimately decide whether to bring charges in these cases.

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