NORFOLK, Va. – A white former police officer on trial for first-degree murder in Virginia testified Tuesday that he shot and killed an unarmed black teen after the 18-year-old knocked away his stun gun and charged toward him.
The former Portsmouth officer, Stephen Rankin, was responding to a shoplifting call outside a Wal-Mart in April 2015. Rankin said he calmly approached suspect William Chapman II before they struggled.
After losing his stun gun, Rankin said, he drew his pistol and repeatedly commanded Chapman to "get on the ground." He said the teen screamed "shoot me" several times before running toward him from 6 feet away.
A jury started deliberating Rankin's fate late Tuesday afternoon. Although police seldom face criminal charges after shootings, the officer's trial comes amid increasing nationwide scrutiny of police tactics and race.
On-duty officers kill suspects about 1,000 times a year, according to Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. But only 74 have been charged since 2005.
For local black leaders, the trial is a reckoning over police-involved shootings and officers who aren't held accountable. But Rankin's lawyers say the shooting should be judged on its own set of facts and has nothing to do with the deaths of other black men at the hands of police.
Rankin was fired after last year's indictment. During his testimony, he said he did not radio for backup or press an emergency officer-assist button on his radio after losing his stun gun. But he said didn't have time.
"I had no reason to think he was going to stop attacking me," said Rankin, 36. "I was scared."
In closing arguments, a prosecutor and defense attorney offered conflicting views over whether Rankin had other options.
Prosecutors Stephanie Morales said Rankin chose to shoot Chapman when he could have used pepper spray.
"He brought a gun into what is at worst a fist fight," she said.
Defense attorney James Broccoletti said Rankin's only choice was to shoot Chapman because "everything he tried to do didn't work."
Unlike other recent police-involved shootings, this one was not recorded on witnesses' cellphones or on security cameras. Witness testimony was contradictory.
Paul Akey, a construction worker who was nearby, said Chapman "went after the officer with throwing fists, and it looked like he knocked a Taser out of the officer's hands."
But Gregory Provo, a Wal-Mart security guard, said Chapman never charged at Rankin. He said the teen ignored the officer's commands and "made a quick gesture to fight" before being shot.
Prosecutors had failed to convince the judge to allow Rankin's ex-wife to testify. They said she would have told the jury that Rankin fantasized about shooting people on the job.
Chapman's death marked the second time Rankin killed someone while on duty. He was cleared of wrongdoing from the first shooting in 2011. In that case, he fired 11 times at a white burglary suspect he said charged at him with his hands reaching into his waistband.