NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A city council member is calling for a federal investigation and Norfolk's police chief is defending his officers after this year's fifth fatal shooting by police in the city.
Two officers responding to a disturbance at a home opened fire when Willie D. James, 43, lunged at them with a knife Thursday evening, Police Chief Michael Goldsmith said at a news conference Friday. The police department is conducting an internal investigation, but Goldsmith said: "I'm going to stand behind my officers on this."
City councilman Paul Riddick said in a telephone interview that police shootings "''have reached an epidemic proportion" in Norfolk, and he will ask the FBI to investigate.
"I don't believe we are able to police ourselves," he said.
According to police, the latest shooting happened when officers investigating a stolen vehicle were alerted to a disturbance at a nearby home. Goldsmith said James was in an upstairs bedroom, and the officers were trying to talk to him when he came "charging down the steps" toward them with a knife. Both officers fired at James, who died later at a hospital.
Goldsmith said evidence supports the officers' account of the shooting. One of the officers was wearing a body camera, he said, and police recovered what appears to be a large kitchen knife that James was carrying.
Police did not release the races of those involved or the names of the officers, who have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation. He said one has been with the department for three years, the other 13 years.
"These officers are devastated. They are distraught," Goldsmith said.
Riddick said that among the issues he wants federal authorities to examine are the level of experience within the police department and whether any of its officers resigned from other law enforcement jobs after being involved in shootings. He said he also is concerned about how police deal with people with mental health problems, and he questioned whether police are too trigger-happy.
"If nobody else is in harm's way, what's wrong with a police officer retreating?" Riddick said.
Goldsmith said his department is among the best in Virginia at "crisis intervention" but that all of his officers involved in fatal shootings were in peril when they fired.
"They have responded to protect their own lives or the lives of others," he said. "That's what they're trained to do."