In October of 2017, Officer Jeremy David Durocher of Portsmouth, Virginia, was named Officer of the Month for shooting an armed burglary suspect who was fleeing the scene of a break-in. He also received a medal of valor from his department.
“In recognition for your heroic response,” wrote Police Chief Tonya Chapman in the medal of valor commendation. “You took necessary steps to stop the threat that this suspect posed to the public and to your fellow officers at great personal risk.”
Now, Durocher is being prosecuted for felony offenses (aggravated malicious wounding and use of firearm in commission of a felony) for that very same shooting. The indictment alleges that Durocher unlawfully and maliciously intended to “maim, disfigure, disable, or kill” the now 19-year-old suspect, Deontrace Ward.
Below is the relevant body camera footage, in which you can hear Durocher saying, “He has a gun! He has a gun!” and “He came out the window, had a gun pointed at me!”
Following the shooting, investigators found a handgun on Ward’s person, but it was inside the bottom of his right pant leg. Ward was also in possession of about $1,500 worth of stolen jewelry and other property from the home he had been caught burglarizing while the homeowners were at Sunday church services.
Initially, Ward was charged with assault of a law enforcement officer, brandishing a firearm and destruction of property, but those three charges were dropped as part of the plea bargain when Ward pled guilty to armed burglary, grand larceny, conspiracy to commit armed burglary, conspiracy to commit larceny and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Ward received a 31-year prison sentence, but 25 of those years have been suspended. Now, he’s serving six years and has ten years of supervised probation ahead of him.
Ward and his lawyer think Durocher didn’t have the right to shoot him. As quoted by the Virginian-Pilot:
“I was just pretty much trying to get away. Showing no aggression,” said Ward, who still has a bullet in his abdomen. “I feel he shot for no reason. […] if I’m just running away, I shouldn’t get shot.”
Durocher’s lawyer, Nicholas Renninger, disagrees, saying:
“[The shooting was] absolutely justified, no reservation. […] The suspect was armed, had burglarized a home and was clearly a danger and a threat in that regard. I have no qualms whatsoever in saying that my client’s actions in protecting himself and those around him were justified.”
This case will be a test of the fleeing felon rule, which permits the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspected felon if the “officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.”
You make the call: good shoot or bad shoot?