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Jury recommends two-and-a-half year sentence for police officer who killed unarmed black man

The ex-officer, Stephen Rankin, shot 18-year-old William Chapman in the face and chest outside a Wal-Mart store last year.

Image: AP

A JURY IN Virginia has recommended two-and-a-half years in prison for a white former police officer convicted of voluntary manslaughter yesterday in the shooting death of an unarmed black man who had been accused of shoplifting.

The ex-officer, Stephen Rankin, shot 18-year-old William Chapman in the face and chest outside a Wal-Mart store last year after a security guard called police to go after the young man.

No video recorded the actual killing, and testimony conflicted on the details of what happened. But most witnesses said Chapman had his hands up, and prosecutor Stephanie Morales said the officer could have used non-deadly force.

The officer “brought a gun into what is at worst a fist fight,” Morales told the jury, which deliberated for nearly two days before returning its verdict.

Rankin, 36, faced one to 10 years on the manslaughter conviction. Morales asked jurors to give him the maximum, while defence attorney James Broccoletti argued that no amount of jail time would bring Chapman back to life.

A judge will formally sentence Rankin on 12 October The judge doesn’t have to follow the jury’s recommendation, but can’t increase the penalty.

Accountability

Rankin, who was fired from the Portsmouth police force after being indicted, had already killed another unarmed suspect, four years earlier, and many in the mostly black city of 100,000 saw his trial as a chance for accountability as police shootings continue around the country.

But his lawyers said this case had nothing to do with deadly uses of force against other black men.

“I think this is a terrible tragedy I wish it had never happened. I wish none of it had ever occurred,” Rankin testified after being found guilty.

“I can’t begin to fathom how much pain that family is going through. I wish I could have done more to keep him alive,” he added.

Chapman’s second cousin, Earl Lewis, also took the stand, speaking through tears about the family’s struggle to find money to bury him.

chap Sallie Chapman stands n the courtroom after the verdict.

The jurors — eight black and four white — did not convict on the first-degree murder charge prosecutors sought. Criminal charges are rare in police-involved shootings, and convictions are even more uncommon.

‘Throwing fists’

Broccoletti argued that Rankin had to shoot, because “everything he tried to do didn’t work.”

And some witnesses backed Rankin’s testimony. 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.”

Rankin testified that he calmly approached Chapman to discuss the shoplifting accusation and was preparing to handcuff him when the teen refused to comply with his orders and a struggle ensued. He said he used his stun gun on him, but Chapman knocked it away. Both men then faced each other from a short distance.

That’s when he drew his pistol, Rankin said, and repeatedly commanded Chapman to “get on the ground.” Instead, he said Chapman screamed “shoot me” several times before charging at him from about six feet away. He said he experienced “tunnel vision” at that point, and fearing for his life, fired twice to stop him.

“I had no reason to think he was going to stop attacking me,” Rankin said. “I was scared.”

But Gregory Provo, the Wal-Mart security guard who reported Chapman to police, testified that Chapman never charged at the officer. He said Chapman raised both hands, boxing-style, and said “Are you going to f—ing shoot me?” before Rankin fired at him from about five yards away.

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