Norfolk Police Officer had History of Using Excessive Force Before Killing Mentally Ill Man

The Norfolk Police Department in Virginia “recklessly failed” to control an officer who had 11 excessive force reports in 14 months before he killed a mentally ill man armed with a knife, the dead man’s relatives said in their wrongful-death lawsuit.

Michael Edington Jr. had a “substantial history” of using excessive force on people in his nearly three years with the police department, including two in the week and a half before he shot dead 35-year-old David Latham, who had a history of mental illness, according to the suit.

Latham’s relatives are suing Edington and the city for $25 million. A jury last year found Edington not guilty of manslaughter in the case.

Edington’s lawyer, Brian Casey, said the reports don’t describe excessive force, although he wouldn’t talk about what was in them, but, he said, no citizen ever complained about him using too much force.

“Edington had zero police brutality complaints before the Latham shooting,” Casey said in an email.

After the trial, Edington said he wanted to keep working as a Norfolk police officer. He’s still on administrative duty, assigned to the department’s central records division, police spokeswoman Cpl. Melinda Wray said.

Wray wouldn’t answer questions about the reports or the Lathams’ accusation the department didn’t properly train Edington. She referred the question to the City Attorney’s Office because it was the subject of a lawsuit.

Deputy City Attorney Michael Beverly, the city’s head lawyer in defending the suit, didn’t respond to a phone message and email.

Audrey Latham, David’s mother, called police to her home on June 6, 2014, after her son, who had a long history of mental illness, grabbed a knife during a fight with his brother.

Latham’s sister said the fight was over a bag of potato chips.

After 911 calls reporting someone swinging a knife at relatives, Edington and two other officers came to the house.

Police repeatedly yelled at Latham to drop the weapon. Officer Dennis Conley testified he heard Latham say, “I’m not going to drop this, so do what you’ve got to do.”

Conley and Officer Matthew Reichert testified they never saw Latham take a step, raise the knife or otherwise threaten anyone.

Edington testified he saw Latham take a small “sidestep,” which the officer took as a cue that Latham was about to charge. Edington fired five times, then followed as Latham ran into the house. The officer fired once more inside, saying later he was concerned Latham could hurt someone if he got out of sight.

Police later found the knife on the front porch.

At trial last year, Norfolk prosecutors argued Edington made up the sidestep to justify his actions, pointing out that he didn’t mention it to detectives who interviewed him shortly after the shooting.

The Latham family’s lawsuit accuses Edington of excessive force, negligence and battery. It also argues the city is responsible for violating Latham’s civil rights because Norfolk police didn’t adequately train officers on dealing with mentally ill people. The city didn’t form a crisis intervention team until the week after Latham died, the lawsuit says.

Latham had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Relatives testified he had stopped taking his medication, was hearing voices and wasn’t eating or sleeping. His former psychiatrist told jurors he thought Latham was going through a psychotic episode the day he was killed.