CHESAPEAKE, Va. - A security company says they have been unfairly tried in local media outlets after one of their security guards was charged with murder.
“They feel like they have been unfairly painted,” said Citywide Security Services’ attorney Andrew Sacks.
Police charged 21-year-old Johnathan Cromwell with 2nd-degree murder after he shot and killed a 60-year-old Chesapeake River Walk resident, Jiansheng Chen.
Chen’s family says he did not speak any English, and was playing Pokémon Go that night in the River Walk Club House parking lot to connect with his grandchildren. Cromwell told police Chen was trespassing after hours and that he feared for his life.
“There have been pre-judgements made about their operations,” Sacks told News 3’s Merris Badcock. “People have assumed bias, for example, against Chinese Americans.”
Sacks sat down with News 3 after our investigative team dug deeper into how the security company treated River Walk residents. Now, Sacks wants the public to know that Cromwell and Citywide were doing their jobs when Chen was shot.
“[Chen] had been barred ten days earlier from the same spot, at night,” said Sacks. “He was told in writing, ‘You cannot be here. If you come back, you will be subject to arrest.’”
Sacks says no one is allowed to be at the club house after sunset, and because Cromwell was a registered security guard with the Virginia Dept. of Criminal Justice Services, Sacks argues that Cromwell was allowed to arrest someone if they committed a crime in front of him, on the property he was supposed to be protecting.
Sacks says Chen tried to flee the scene after Cromwell caught him trespassing. He says Cromwell told him to 'stop', but Chen did not comply with his orders.
Last month, News 3 took a closer look at how the security guards operated inside the River Walk community. It was not difficult to find residents, like Nick Raykhman, who remembered past negative run-ins with Citywide security guards.
“We were kind of stopped on a corner talking,” said Raykhman. “[The guard] pulled over, kind of started questioning, ‘What’s going on? Why are y’all here?’"
He says the encounter caught him off guard. "We were just like, ‘We’re outside man. Relax.’”
Raykhman also recalled a time when he saw a security guard chasing men in "button-down shirts" out of the boat ramp area.
None of the neighbors we spoke to, including Raykhman, ever identified Cromwell as being one of the 'overly aggressive' security guards they had dealt with in the past.
Even though Raykhman had several negative run-ins with security guards, he never filed a complaint. According to both the homeowner’s association and Sacks, in the seven years Citywide patrolled the neighborhood, there was never one formal complaint made against the security company.
After Chen’s death, the HOA told News 3 they hired Citywide for ‘unarmed security services’, However, every neighbor we talked to said the guards were always armed.
“They were always armed, yes,” said Raykhman. “They made no hesitation about that. They were definitely displayed on the hip or whatever, had the whole belt set up.”
But Sacks disagrees. He says the contract he has shows the exact opposite: that River Walk requested armed security guards to patrol the property.
Neither the HOA nor Sacks were willing to share copies of their respective contracts with us.
“To be honest with you, we would very much like to release this,” said Sacks. “We want the public to see the contract that spells out armed services…but because of the investigation, and because of the confidentiality issues, we are not as free as we would like to be.”
Ultimately, some residents think that even if Cromwell was allowed to be armed, and even if Chen was actually trespassing, the shooting was an unnecessary use of force.
“In my opinion, you do not put your own life in danger for something as simple as trespassing,” said Raykhman. “It does not seem like that significant of a transgression.”
Still, Sacks believes Cromwell acted within his right, and will be found innocent if the case goes to a jury.
“As sad as it is, it was a necessary use of force," said Sacks. "[Cromwell] should not have to wear a scarlet letter for the rest of his life for doing what the law allowed him to do.”