HAMPTON, Va. - A federal lawsuit has been filed against two police officers who shot three people at a 7-Eleven in October 2017.
The Commonwealth's Attorney has cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing, but the mother of a man who was killed and one of the men have filed the suit seeking $10 million each.
Williamsburg Police Investigator Maurice Craighill and Newport News Police Sergeant Charles Howser shot the three during an encounter in the parking lot.
That fall there had been an increase in the number of stolen vehicles in different communities on the Peninsula, according to a report by the Commonwealth's Attorney. Some of the incidents involved the use of guns, and so different area police departments were working together on the cases.
On the night of October 17, 2017, police were investigating a stolen Red Buick, but later discovered a stolen pickup truck in Newport News. The officers followed the pickup truck, but briefly lost sight of it until they found it again at a 7-Eleven on Kecoughtan Road. As the driver of the pickup went inside the store, officers moved in on them in an attempt to arrest them and shouted commands at the people in the pickup.
The report then says Deandre Bethea jumped from the backseat into the driver's seat, put the pickup in drive and "rammed" the unmarked police car. Craighill said he saw Bethea with a gun in his hand and opened fire. Meanwhile, Howser fired from the passenger side. The officers said they also saw a gun in the backseat and shot again, hitting Nahime Sawyer and Leroy Clyburn. Both of them survived, but Bethea later died at the hospital.
Now, Clyburn and Bethea's mother are suing the two officers. The lawsuit says the officers unnecessarily escalated the situation. "They were trying to get away because the shots were starting to fire at them, and then that's when they started to try to get away," said attorney James Ellenson, who says no shots were fired from inside the vehicle at the officers.
Commonwealth's Attorney Anton Bell said the officers were justified because Bethea "posed an immediate threat to both law enforcement and civilians present." Investigators recovered five guns from the scene, Bell said.
The families say they want the officers to be held accountable in some way. "They took my firstborn. Deandre taught me the meaning of really loving someone, and they took him," sayd Keyanna Bethea, Deandre's mother.
Both Newport News and Williamsburg Police had no comment. The Fraternal Order of Police in Newport News also declined to comment. A court date will be set at a later date.