PORTSMOUTH, Va. - The Portsmouth Police officer who was involved in a shooting in October 2017 was indicted by a grand jury Thursday and has been booked into the Portsmouth Sheriff's Office.
Officer Jeremy Durocher was charged with one count of aggravated malicious wounding and one count of use of a firearm.
The Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney's Office announced Wednesday that it planned to seek an indictment for Durocher at Thursday's regular grand jury after completing its investigation into the shooting of Deontrace Lamont Ward, which occurred on October 29, 2017. Durocher shot Ward during an attempted burglary in the 1100 block of Tatem Avenue.
The Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney's Office said in a Thursday night press conference that it sought the charges after "carefully considering the results of a Virginia State Police investigation and a supplemental investigation performed by our office's investigator."
The press conference went on to confirm that Thursday's regular grand jury returned a true bill on the charges of aggravated malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorneys George Bruch and Rhonda Spady will prosecute the case.
"We understand that this is a case of public interest and media attention," said Stephanie Morales, the Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney. "However, our office will not try this case in the media or the court of public opinion. It will be tried in the Portsmouth Circuit Court."
Police Chief Tonya D. Chapman of the Portsmouth Police Department issued the following statement after Durocher's indictment:
Although this decision directly impacts the members of the Portsmouth Police Department, we will allow the criminal justice system to run its course. In the meantime, I can assure you that the members of our department will continue to faithfully serve our community, remain steadfast in building trust, and continue our double digit major crimes reduction beyond the 12% we've already achieved this year.
Ward pleaded guilty to armed statutory burglary in June. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with six of those years suspended.
Attorney SW Dawson told News 3 he plans to file a lawsuit against Durocher on behalf of Ward. Dawson issued the following statement on the matter:
The law does not afford police officers the luxury of shooting first and asking questions later. The evidence in this case will show that Officer Durocher had no legal authority whatsoever to shoot this young man in the back. What's nearly worse, this officer's explanation of why he did what he did doesn't match up with the facts. We look forward to seeking justice from the citizens of Portsmouth for Deontrace Ward.
The Fraternal Order of Police in Portsmouth released this statement in response to the indictment:
We, the fraternal organizations of this police department, want to acknowledge our full support of Officer Durocher and his actions in the unfortunate situation that he was forced into by the accused, Mr. Ward. We want it fully known that it was the actions of one person, Mr. Ward, on October 29, 2017, that brought us here today
In the interest of fairness, equality and in the keeping of the ideals of 21st Century policing that we believe that as the TOP COP for the City of Portsmouth, the Commonwealth Attorney should recuse herself from this case and all future cases. Many months ago, she recused herself from the prosecution of the armed burglar in this case so that she could focus on the investigation of the officer. The Portsmouth Police Department was told to step out of the investigating the shooting, by the Commonwealth, so as to alleviate any fears of bias. She should have stepped out of both cases, to totally alleviate these types of fears.
It is impossible to break the bond that we share with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office especially when they prosecute the cases that we bring to them. It is our position that Mrs. Morales and her office should step out of both cases. This would be fair to both the officer and Mr. Ward.
Our concern is with the amount of time that it has taken for us to get to today. It is our understanding that this investigation, by the Virginia State Police, was turned over to her nearly a year ago. It is further our understanding that there was never a meeting between Mrs. Morales and the Virginia State Police who investigated this case. Since it apparent that this was to be turned over to the Grand Jury of the City of Portsmouth, we are extremely concerned with the amount of time it took to get to today.
It also appears to us that all incidents involving use of force by police officers are going to the Grand Jury. We only feel that it is right that this process be fair, consistent and timely. It is neither. It is out of the ordinary for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s investigator to present any case. Almost every single case presented to the Grand Jury is presented by a Portsmouth Police officer or detective. By presenting this directly from her office, it automatically shows a bias by her office and demonstrates it indirectly to the Grand Jury.
We stand committed, as we are sworn to do, to protect the citizens of Portsmouth, but we need to acknowledge that our lives matter just as much as everyone else’s.