RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two police officers were justified in returning gunfire and killing a suspect who shot at them first during a foot chase down an alley, the city's police chief said Thursday.
Chief Alfred Durham said at a news conference that it was not a racially charged shootout as some in the community have suggested. The suspect, a 20-year-old black man, was a convicted felon and a "person of interest" in a July 23 assault, Durham said. One of the officers is black and the other is white.
"This is not Ferguson," the chief said, referring to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white officer a year ago in Ferguson, Missouri. The officer was cleared in that case, but the shooting set off protests, unrest and nationwide scrutiny of police officers' treatment of blacks.
In the Richmond shooting, officers Ryan Bailey and Jacob DeBoard responded Wednesday to a report of an armed man in the Fan District, so named because the shape of the street grid. The Fan is known for its historic row homes, cafes, Virginia Commonwealth University and the city's famous Monument Avenue, which features statues of Confederate heroes.
When police approached the suspect, Keshawn Hargrove, he fled, police said. As the officers chased him, one witness said Hargrove fired over his shoulder.
The officers fired at Hargrove and he was killed by a single gunshot, Durham said. It's not clear which officer fired the fatal shot.
"My officers did what they had to do," the chief said.
The chief said results of an internal investigation will be turned over in about a month to the Richmond prosecutor, who will determine whether the officers acted appropriately. Bailey and DeBoard have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Bailey, who is black, was wounded in the arm.
It was Richmond's first fatal police shooting since 2010.
Durham faced an angry crowd of about three dozen people, most of them black, at the shooting scene on Wednesday night. The crowd demanded answers and questioned whether police used too much force.
"There's too much of this going on," said Lenora Gaither, who suggested police had been keeping a close eye on Hargrove because of his criminal record. Richmond Circuit Court records show that Hargrove pleaded guilty to malicious wounding and possession of a firearm by a felon in 2010. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Hargrove's mother encouraged her angry neighbors to be patient while police investigate.
"She was the angel," Durham said. "She calmed that community."
By Thursday, shopkeepers in the neighborhood said everything was back to normal. A woman at a hair salon near the shooting said there had been no cancellations. A cashier at a convenience store that backs up to the alley where the shooting took place said his store was closed for three hours Wednesday but there was no effect on business Thursday.
Dorothy Warden has lived across the street from Hargrove's grandmother's house, where Hargrove lived, for the last decade. She said she used to take Hargrove to church when he was a child.
"I didn't think that he was a violent person," she said.
Durham said that while people demanded immediate answers about the shooting by one of his officers, when someone is shot in one of the city's housing projects "we can't get answers" from potential witnesses. "That's not fair," he said.
A witness to Wednesday's shooting told the Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1ORDyRc ) that after one officer was wounded, the other one shot the suspect.
Lois G. Ambriz, who was working a construction job in the area, said he didn't see who fired first but heard the officer "screaming really bad" after he was shot.
Ambriz said the suspect ran about 50 feet, firing shots over his shoulder, and was shot by the second officer. He estimated the incident lasted less than a minute and that at least 15 shots were fired.
King Salim Khalfani, the longtime former executive director of the Virginia NAACP, agreed with Durham that the incident is unlike the shootings of unarmed black men that have prompted protests elsewhere.
"I understand the pain, man, but if what we heard is true, you can't run down the street firing at police and ducking for cover," Khalfani said. "Not a smart thing to do."
The story corrects previous versions that said the wounded officer is white. The officer is black.
Associated Press writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.