A grand jury indicted Portsmouth, Virginia police officer Stephen Rankin on Thursday for first-degree murder and use of a firearm in a felony for the shooting death of an unarmed man, the Virginian-Pilot reports. The charges led the department to fire Rankin, according to a statement released by interim Police Chief Dennis Mook. Rankin’s indictment comes less than three weeks after Adam Torres, formerly of the Fairfax County, Virginia police, was indicted for murder for shooting an unarmed man during a standoff in 2013.
In the Portsmouth case, William Chapman II, 18, was killed on April 22 when Officer Rankin responded to a call about a suspected shoplifter at a Walmart store and confronted Chapman in the parking lot. According to witnesses, after an initial scuffle, the two separated; Rankin later told investigators that Chapman was lunging at him when he fired his service weapon and shot Chapman twice in the face and chest. Police have so far refused to say whether Chapman, who was unarmed, was found to have stolen from the store. The case was handled by the Virginia State Police, an arragement that interim Chief Mook said ensured an “independent and unbiased” investigation.
Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales said at a press conference Thursday that she intends to recommend against allowing Rankin to be freed on bond, but declined to offer many details of the evidence against him, saying she wanted to avoid trying the case in the media, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Rankin is expected to make a court appearance on Friday.
During Rankin’s tenure with the Portsmouth Police Department, which began after he left the Navy in 2007, he was reportedly reprimanded for inappropriate posts joking about violence on Facebook. A former fellow officer described him as “afraid of his own shadow” and a retired commander said that supervisors had been warned that Rankin’s conduct on the job made him “dangerous” and likely to hurt someone, the Guardian reports.
Rankin also admitted under oath to using an online alias, “yourealythinkthat,” to post hundreds of comments on local news stories supporting his own actions in a previous fatal shooting of an unarmed man. Kirill Denyakin, a Kazakh man, was shot by Rankin in 2011 after reportedly pounding on the door of a building where he was staying with friends. Rankin, summoned by a report of a suspected burglary, said Denyakin charged at him and refused to take his hand out of his pants, leading the officer to worry that he had a weapon. Rankin shot Denyakin 11 times but was later cleared of wrondgoing by a grand jury.