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White cop convicted of manslaughter for shooting unarmed black man outside Va. Walmart

By Michael E. Miller,

It was early on the morning of April 22, 2015, when Portsmouth, Va., police officer Stephen Rankin received a call about a suspected shoplifting.

Responding to the local Walmart, Rankin spotted a young black man walking through the parking lot. The policeman radioed his dispatcher to say he was approaching.

Sixty-two seconds later, after a scuffle, Rankin fatally shot that young black man, 18-year-old William Chapman II, in the chest and face.

On Thursday, a jury convicted Rankin of voluntary manslaughter, rejecting his claim that the shooting was justified.

The same jury, however, also rejected more serious charges and recommended a sentence of two and a half years for the former officer — a quarter of the punishment requested by prosecutors.

“It’s not enough,” Chapman’s mother, Sallie, said of the recommended sentence, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

At the time, the killing did not draw the type of national attention seen in other police slayings of black men.

Rankin’s trial, however, came on the heels of the fatal police shootings last month of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. Tensions remain high over the issues of race and policing in America.

Some African American activists saw the trial as a litmus test for American law enforcement.

“The criminal justice system is hell-bent on favoring those in law enforcement,” James Boyd, president of Portsmouth’s NAACP chapter, told the Associated Press before the verdict. “We see these violent injustices happening time and again without any sense of accountability. This trial has implications for every citizen, but specifically for every black American in this country.”

Rankin’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to delay the trial, claiming the ex-cop could not get a fair trial in the current climate. They also said the case should not be judged in the context of police shootings elsewhere in the country.

“The factual scenario is so totally different than what has happened in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and with Michael Brown [in Ferguson, Missouri],” defense attorney James Broccoletti told the AP before the trial. “I don’t think it would matter if this individual were black, red, purple or orange. It was the conduct of the person that generated the response.”

Adding to the trial’s intrigue was the fact that Rankin had fatally shot an unarmed white man in 2011.

Judge Johnny Morrison did not allow prosecutors to tell the jury about the previous shooting, however. Instead, the four days of testimony focused on those 62 seconds last spring.

The incident began when employees at a Walmart in Portsmouth, a majority black city of 100,000 near Norfolk, called 911 at around 7:30 a.m. to report a shoplifter.

According to Rankin’s court testimony, the officer approached Chapman and said, “I suppose you know why I’m here.”

The teenager walked away briskly and put his left hand in his pocket, Rankin testified.

“I think he’s reaching for something and I need to detain him,” he said on the stand, according to the Guardian.

When Rankin put Chapman on the hood of his patrol car, however, the teenager allegedly tried to get away.

“Take your hand out of your pocket or I’m going to tase you,” Rankin recalled telling Chapman.

“You’re going to tase me when I didn’t do nothing to you?” Chapman replied, according to video footage from Rankin’s Taser that was played in court.

Rankin tased the teen.

“Immediately he became enraged and he became very angry,” Rankin claimed in court. The two scuffled, and Rankin’s Taser was knocked to the ground.

Rankin said he pulled his pistol and aimed it at Chapman, who was roughly six feet away from him in the parking lot. According to the officer, he ordered Chapman onto the ground but the teen instead taunted him, saying “Shoot me.”

Chapman then “came towards me aggressively,” Rankin claimed.

“I thought he was coming to kill me,” he testified, according to the Guardian.

The officer opened fire, striking the teen in his chest and face.

Some witnesses supported Rankin’s version of events, while others contradicted it.


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