Two years ago, the Portsmouth commonwealth’s attorney announced that a police officer was justified when he shot and killed Walter Brown III inside his home. Brown fought with police, she said, and was armed with a gun.
His widow isn’t convinced.
Octavia Brown filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year against former police Chief Ed Hargis and three of his subordinates. It claims police followed her husband home for no reason, beat him for no reason, used a stun gun on him multiple times for no reason and then shot and killed him – again for no reason.
The lawsuit said Brown did not have a gun and was not resisting or evading arrest at the time of the shooting.
“He was protecting himself in his home from the unlawful, heinous and unprovoked attack on him by the police,” it said.
One of Brown’s lawyers, Christopher Colt North, declined to comment, as did a city spokeswoman.
Mildred Brown holds a photograph of her stepson Walter Brown III, who was shot and killed by Portsmouth a police officer, Wednesday, March 25, 2015 in Virginia Beach, VA. Rich-Joseph Facun | The Virginian-Pilot
A four-page report released in August 2015 by Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales offers the city’s version of events. It said police spotted Brown’s car at 1:45 p.m. in the parking lot of a Save & Save Supermarket before moving across the street to a vacant gas station.
Three detectives approached Brown, and one of them tried to quietly tell his colleagues he smelled marijuana, the report said. Brown probably overheard, though.
A detective ordered Brown and his passenger out of the car, but Brown drove off. Police chased him to Colin Drive South, where he parked in his yard and ran toward the front door.
The report said Lt. Todd Thursby fired a Taser at Brown as he entered the house and again inside a hallway to no avail. He told investigators Brown then ran into a bedroom, where his wife was sitting, and started fumbling through a dresser.
The report said Thursby wrestled Brown to the ground and tried to stun him again to no effect. It said Brown then knocked the stun gun out of the lieutenant’s hands before a second officer came into the room and tried to help restrain Brown. In the process, however, Brown was able to get Thursby’s stun gun.
A third officer then entered the room and shot Brown with his Taser.
The report said Brown stood up while Thursby and another officer were still on top of him. That’s when the officers saw he had a handgun. None of them knew where he got it.
Two officers told investigators that Brown pointed the gun at his own head. Thursby said Brown pointed the gun at him and another officer.
Thursby fired four rounds into Brown’s torso, the report said. He told investigators the gun was still raised, so he shot Brown one more time in the head.
Octavia Brown was recorded on video and audio repeatedly saying her husband grabbed a gun from the dresser and put it to his head, the report said.
According to a search warrant filed in Circuit Court, police found drugs, baggies, scales and weapons at Brown’s home.
The lawsuit paints a very different picture, saying police unlawfully “profiled” Brown before engaging in an “unprovoked physical attack.”
It said Brown was visiting briefly with a friend in the parking lot when officers approached.
Brown told the officers he did not want to speak with police, the lawsuit said, and he drove home “abiding by all traffic laws.” It added that Brown was “not being directly followed by a Portsmouth police vehicle with its overhead lights activated.”
The lawsuit alleged Thursby “crept up behind” Brown outside the house before using his Taser, hitting him and following him inside.
The lawsuit said the incident continued inside the bedroom, with Thursby and another officer “beating” Brown on the ground while his wife screamed. It said a third officer removed Octavia Brown from the room before Thursby got up, backed away from Walter Brown and opened fire.
It said Thursby shot Brown one more time in the head as he lay “helpless on the floor.”
The lawsuit claims Hargis, who now serves as the chief of the Frederick Police Department in Maryland, routinely let his officers use excessive force on people, “particularly African American individuals.”
It also points out that Thursby has been involved in the deaths of three other people in the line of duty.
In 2009, he was one of several officers who fired on Demetrius Edens, 28, and Darren Wilson, 25. The two were killed when police tried to arrest them in the Holly Cove neighborhood of Chesapeake.
And in 2010, he was one of several officers who fired on David Lewis Warren, 68, killing him during a standoff that stemmed from a dispute concerning overgrown grass outside a condemned house in Cavalier Manor.
“The actions of the police were outrageous and grossly negligent,” the lawsuit said regarding Brown’s death. “The police were plainly incompetent or knowingly violated the law.”