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Local News in Virginia

Norfolk Officer To Be Tried In 2014 Fatal Shooting

By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

New Journal and Guide

Norfolk Police officer Michael Carlton Edington was charged with voluntary manslaughter of David Latham, June 11, by a special grand jury after two and a half days of deliberations.

The incident took place June 6, 2014 when police were summoned to Latham’s family home at 411 30th Street in the Park Place section of Norfolk.

Greg Underwood, Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney, impanelled the nine-member Special Grand Jury June 8, a year after the fatal incident occurred.

The panel of jurors was racially diverse with three African-American women, two Black men, two White women and two White men. The names and other vital information about the grand jurors were not released.

In a statement from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, Underwood said the officer would be prosecuted in accordance with the law.

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More than a dozen witnesses were heard by the grand jury, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office

The jurors were instructed to limit charges to second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and voluntary manslaughter.

Historically, Virginia law defines voluntary manslaughter as an unlawful killing, but one without malice.

The jury selected voluntary manslaughter.

Reaction from the Black community was both surprise and relief that the judicial system had sanctioned a White police officer for the shooting to death of an unarmed African-American male. In this case, police said Latham was wielding a knife on the night he was shot.

On the night of the incident, Norfolk police were dispatched to the Latham home after receiving a call from the home for assistance. They found David Latham agitated and standing in the doorway of his home with a knife. Officers said they told Latham to drop the knife which he did not do. Exactly why the one officer charged with killing Latham began to fire his weapon is still unclear. He was the only one shooting.

The most damning aspect of the police reaction was that when Latham turned and retreated into his home, the same officer followed him and continued to fire inside the dwelling.

The fact that Latham was retreating and posed no threat to the officers harkens to a recent incident in North Charleston, South Carolina when a Black man who was running away from a police officer was shot in the back by the officer.

Latham family members said that officers had been called to the home on previous occasions when Latham, who had mental health issues, had acted out. Then, police had handled Latham without violence. Family members said that on the night of the shooting they were summoning the police hoping to get help for David Latham. Instead he died in a hail of bullets.

The Norfolk grand jury’s decision took place in the midst of increased concern in the Black community about police overreaction and killing of unarmed African-American men during tense encounters.

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This is not the first time a Norfolk police officer has been charged with shooting a civilian, notably an African-American.

According to the Journal and Guide archives, on March 16, 1975, an African-American Air Force Sergeant, Lymas Alphonzo Fauntleroy, stationed at Langley Air Force Base, was arrested by a White police officer, Dwight D. Gibson, in Berkley.

According to the Guide archives, Gibson was dispatched to arrest Sergeant Fauntleroy for an assault charge committed days earlier.

During the arrest, Gibson and Fauntleroy, both 24-years-old, had an altercation outside the Black Cat Lounge in Berkley. Gibson was arrested, placed in the back of a squad car and transported to the Norfolk Police station.

According to former NPD officer John Wesley Hill, who once led the Norfolk NAACP, in those days, all of the city’s police operations were located where the current Norfolk city jail complex is across from city hall.

Today the Police Operations Center is located in Ingleside off Virginia Beach Blvd.

As Gibson escorted his prisoner to be booked, he broke free, grabbed the officer’s night stick and began beating him in the back. Gibson said that Fauntleroy tried to choke him and grab his gun when he broke free and shot Fauntleroy three times in the back and once in the head.

On February 18, Gibson was charged in the slaying with murder.

After he was charged, according to the Guide, Gibson remained on duty.

“But the student leaders of the Norfolk State NAACP protested Gibson being able to continue working,” said Hill. “The main NAACP unit did not raise any protest. But the kids did. Eventually Gibson was suspended until his trial.”

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On the day of the trial on May 6, 1975, the Norfolk Circuit Courthouse was filled with Black residents seeking justice and city police and Sheriff’s deputies, including K-9 units.

“They were afraid of a riot,” said Hill.

But after the two sides made their cases before he jury, Gibson’s lawyer made a motion that the charges be dropped because it was a matter of self defense.

Judge Linwood B. Tabb dismissed the charges, accepting Gibson’s claim he was trying to defend himself and afraid for his life.

The only evidence that Fauntleroy had assaulted the officer was from the policeman. There were no witnesses other than the officer, and Fauntleroy’s lawyers said Gibson did not even have a warrant in hand when he approached Fauntleroy.

According to Hill, before Gibson was hired by Norfolk, he allegedly had been fired by the Chesapeake police department for abusing Black residents.

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