Va. jury acquits officer in man’s shooting death

Edington, left, and Latham (Norfolk Police Department | family friend Michael Muhammad | WAVY)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Jurors on Thursday found 27-year-old Norfolk police Officer Michael Edington, Jr. not guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 shooting death of 35-year-old David Latham.

After deliberating for nearly 11 hours over the course of two days, the jury delivered a not guilty verdict shortly after 5:30 p.m.

Edington hugged his attorney, Jeff Swartz, and shook hands with Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood. Outside the courthouse, Edington cried and embraced his family.

When asked what it was like to hear the words ‘not guilty,’ Edington replied, “amazing,” and talked about the support he had from family and the police department.

Defense attorney Jeff Swartz said the jury’s verdict showed the community came together.

“These jurors, as representatives of the community, showed that the system works, that they were willing to set aside national issues, personal opinions or biases, and decide this case based on the law and the facts, as they learned them and heard them in the courtroom and we couldn’t be more appreciative,” Swartz said.

Edington said, with the verdict, he had his life back, and planned to continue serving as a police officer.

“It’s something that I’m passionate about,” Edington said.

Swartz said the case was a tragedy for all involved.

“June 6 of 2014 was a tragedy for the Latham family. It was a tragedy for this young man. A jury found that he acted appropriately, but he’ll carry this for the rest of his life. Although we are grateful to the jury and to our system that we got the right result, our hearts still go out to the Latham family,” Swartz said.

WAVY caught up with the Latham family in front of their home where David Latham was shot by Edington. The Latham family attorney, Jon Babineau, says they have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Babineau said it’s clear the jury took in the totality of Latham’s movement and thought Edington was justified in firing.

“No one ever spoke about this step, the officer never spoke about the step, the investigator, never. Any notes… it was never in any recorded statement,” Babineau said. “But at trial, he testified there was this step he believed was the act then he reacted thinking David was going, in his words, lunge at him, and that’s why he took the action he did.”

During the trial, Edington testified that Latham took a step to the side before the shooting.

In closing arguments, Underwood denied that Latham took the step. He showed a video of a police interview in which Edington demonstrated Latham’s actions, but did not move his feet.

“The step didn’t happen,” Underwood said. He argued that the investigator who questioned Edington at the Police Operations Center following the shooting asked leading questions and was “spoon feeding” the defendant.

In Edington’s defense, Swartz said Latham was dangerous and unpredictable when off of his medication and that there was “terror going on in that house” the night of Latham’s death.

Edington showed a step Latham made to the investigator during a walk-through interview of the scene and his story did not change, Swartz said. He argued that Edington was nervous, but followed his training and could not wait any longer before shooting Latham. The movement of Latham’s foot was the final act, Swartz said, calling Latham’s death a tragedy, but “not a crime.”

In response to Swartz’s closing argument, Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Catherine Dodson said Edington acted out of panic and fear, but that his fear and actions were not reasonable. They were done out of the heat of passion, she said.

She argued that the police department’s investigation was “not an independent investigation” and that the sergeant who interviewed Edington wanted it to be a justified killing.

Edington was not an evil person, but being a police officer was not the job for him, Dodson said.

Defense and prosecution attorneys questioned the officer for more than two combined hours on Tuesday.

The trial largely hinged on the question of what Latham was doing leading up to the point when shots were fired — and whether Edington was justified in using lethal force.

It was reported in 2014 that Latham had refused to drop a knife during an encounter with law enforcement.

Witness testimony last week suggested that Latham did have a knife in his hand the night of the 2014 encounter, but had it pointed to the ground and did not advance on or retreat from officers.

A psychiatrist who testified during Edington’s trial said he had diagnosed Latham with a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

One of the other big questions in the trial centered on a body camera Edington was reportedly wearing during the incident.

A witness testified late last week that Edington was wearing a non-department issued body camera that he had bought himself. The camera reportedly only recorded the aftermath of the 2014 shooting.

Police policy advises against personal body cameras

Edington said he turned the camera on after shots were fired. He testified that he did not have it on in the first place was that he hadn’t used it often and it was not a habit for him to use the camera.

Underwood released a statement after the verdict came down Thursday, which read in full:

Our duty is to seek justice and that’s what we’ve done through this case. While there are officer-involved shootings in Norfolk which should be and have been determined by this Office to be a justified use of force, this matter – with contradictory information about what occurred – was not one where I could reach that conclusion after a thorough legal review. While this is not the outcome we sought, we are pleased this matter was heard by and decided by Norfolk citizens in an appropriate public forum via the jurors in this jury trial. In addition, Norfolk citizens evaluated this case through the Special Grand Jury process. We certainly understand this verdict may be especially difficult for The Latham Family. It’s our sincere hope they’re comforted by their faith, family, and friends now and going forward.”

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