A Virginia police officer has been arrested and charged with the murder of an unarmed Black teenager. Portsmouth Officer Stephen Rankin is currently in jail facing first-degree murder charges for fatally shooting William Chapman in a Walmart parking lot. Portsmouth Police Chief Dennis Mook said Rankin had also been fired from his job.
A lawyer for the Chapman family said he was pleased with the decision.
“After a methodical deliberation of a thorough investigation by the Virginia state police, the commonwealth’s attorney determined that William Chapman was murdered by a police officer,” said attorney Jon Michael Babineau. “Today, the citizens of Portsmouth agreed.”
However, Nicole Belote, an attorney representing Rankin, questioned the charges.
“While I am quite surprised that a charge of first degree murder was presented to the grand jury and returned as a true bill because the facts do not support such a charge, it does not change our defense,” said Belote. “We will continue to prepare for trial and zealously defend Officer Rankin.”
The NAACP said the indictment showed police officers have to be held accountable for their actions —especially when they take a life.
“(The indictment) sends a strong message throughout our community that the badge is not above the law and those who betray the public trust by not valuing the dignity of human life will be held accountable,” said the NAACP in a statement. “We are pleased that William Chapman II will finally have his day in court.”
The Chapman family was happy the justice system was moving forward with the case.
“I am so thankful,” said Sallie Chapman, William Chapman’s mother. “Justice. Justice. Justice.”
“Justice has been served, and it has been shown that black lives matter in Portsmouth, Virginia,” said Earl Lewis, Chapman’s cousin. Lewis has acted as spokesman for the family.
Court records showed a grand jury charged Rankin with murder and the illegal use of a firearm. Rankin shot Chapman after he tried to arrest him on shoplifting charges. Rankin and Chapman engaged in a struggle and Rankin shot the teenager after he broke free and advanced toward him. Police failed to provide evidence that Chapman had stolen property on him.
This was Rankin’s second fatal shooting as an officer. In 2011, he shot Kirill Denyakin dead after responding to a noise complaint. A grand jury declined to indict him for Denyakin’s death. However, in a disturbing incident, Rankin went online to taunt Denyakin’s family who had filed an unsuccessful lawsuit him against him.
Before the first shooting, other officers had warned Rankin’s superiors about his behavior. A former Portsmouth officer described Rankin as ‘afraid of his own shadow.’ Weeks before the first shooting, senior commanders warned his lieutenant that Rankin was ‘dangerous,’ and likely to cause someone harm.
Rankin is a Navy veteran and was trained in the Marine Corps’ martial arts program, which teaches military personnel to take down armed suspects alive. The Portsmouth police recruits heavily from a nearby naval base in Norfolk. However, Rankin’s service in Iraq may have caused him to develop a certain disregard for human life. After the first shooting, he expressed little remorse.
“What’s the difference if it was one round or 11 rounds or 111 rounds?” he wrote, using the screen name “yourealythinkthat.” “When I was in Iraq, that would have been a good shoot. In fact, nobody would have really given it a second thought.”
Lewis said that if Rankin had been punished after the first shooting, his cousin might still be alive.
“If he had stopped then, William would still be alive today. We lost a very valuable young man in our family.”