NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A Virginia prosecutor announced Friday that the fatal police shooting of a 23-year-old Newport News man who was carrying a sawed-off shotgun was justified.
Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn released the results of a seven-month investigation into the fatal shooting of Kawanza Beaty on July 4, finding that Detective Randy Gibson Jr. had a reasonable belief that "Beaty posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to himself" and Sgt. Michael Sinclair.
The incident began as officers investigated a report that Beaty had a sawed-off shotgun, which is illegal in Virginia, according to the report. After a foot chase, the report states Beaty ignored officers' commands to drop the weapon after a chase and the three officers involved saw Beaty point the gun toward Sinclair.
The officers reasonably feared that Beaty was about to shoot Sinclair, when Gibson, who was slightly behind Beaty as he turned, fired. Beaty was shot in the head and died at the scene, the report states. His gun fell at the scene and was determined to be not loaded.
In September, Beaty's family filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against police and the city. The Daily Press reports that the lawsuit is still pending.
Beaty was black and Newport News police spokesman Lou Thurston said by phone Friday that the officers involved are white.
The lawsuit does not mention race as a factor, but it comes amid a national debate about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.
The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is monitoring this matter. The report states that Gwynn's office will take no further action and after the local investigation is resolved, federal authorities will determine whether federal action is appropriate.
Thurston said the officers have been cleared in an internal investigation.
Family and friends met with the commonwealth attorney before the decision was announced Friday and were frustrated with the outcome.
"How you gonna shoot my son in the back of the head and call it justified?" Melisa Dargan, Beaty's mother, said to the Daily Press.
None of the officers were wearing body cameras during the shooting. The Daily Press reports that Newport News police purchased 125 body cameras last year for all officers who patrol the streets.