Newport News officer who fired fatal shot on July 4 was also involved in 2012 shooting

Peter Dujardin
Contact Reporterpdujardin@dailypress.com

NEWPORT NEWS — The police officer who shot and killed a 23-year-old man during an early morning police chase in Southeast Newport News last month previously shot an unarmed man during a 2012 traffic stop, leaving that man paralyzed.

Randy J. Gibson Jr., 36, who began as a Newport News police officer eight years ago, was identified by multiple sources as the narcotics detective who shot Kawanza J. Beaty on July 4 in an early morning pursuit near the Peterson Yacht Basin.

Those sources spoke on the condition of anonymity.

James Ellenson, an attorney who has given official notice to the city that he plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Beaty family, went on the record on Aug. 11 with Gibson's name. "Upon information and belief, it is our understanding that Randy Gibson was the shooter," Ellenson said.

Beaty's family has also named Gibson in a petition circulated by the family asking that charges be filed against him in the death of their son. The family said in a news conference Thursday that the petition has gathered about 240 signatures.

City records show that Gibson began working as a Newport News police officer in September 2007. He currently holds the rank of Senior Police Officer with a salary of $49,695.

Police Chief Richard W. Myers has declined to release the name of the officer who shot and killed Beaty. The chief did, however, say he's a narcotics detective and eight-year department veteran who had previously shot someone while on duty.

Myers sent an email out to the department on Aug. 19 explaining that the Daily Press intended to release the name of the officer before the department does.

The chief told his staff that the Newport News Police Department "has tried to strike a delicate balance between transparency and the need to preserve the investigation of the incident (criminal and internal) as well as attend to the safety and security of our employees."

"Previously, we have asserted that our intention is to release the name of the officer involved at the time the Commonwealth's Attorney releases his findings," Myers said.

The police report into the Beaty case will soon be turned over to Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn to determine whether the officer's actions were justified.

"I have not yet gotten the police investigative results, so I can't do anything until I get those results," Gwynn said Thursday. "In terms of how long it's going to take, we are going to interview the witnesses, talk to all the experts who did analysis in the case. We are going to research the law. And it's going take as long as it takes us to do a fair and complete — and fair and honest — job."

An earlier shooting

In December 2012, Gibson was one of two police officers who shot at Corey A. Moody, now 43, at a traffic stop on an Interstate 664 overpass, near Madison Avenue and 35th Street. That came after several officers pulled over Moody's BMW on a federal drug warrant.

Another police officer, Danielle Hollandsworth, first opened fire during that stop, after she said Moody was reaching for something in the car's center console — and she believed it was a gun. Her shot missed Moody.

A prosecutor's office report said that as Moody then drove off, Gibson feared that another officer — apparently still leaning into the car at the time — would be injured.

Gibson fired four rounds from the rear passenger side of the car, striking Moody twice. One of the shots hit Moody in the leg, while the other struck him in the back, penetrating his spinal cord and paralyzing him, the prosecutor's report said.

No gun was found on Moody or in his car.

In July 2013, the Newport News commonwealth's attorney's office cleared Gibson and several other officers of any criminal wrongdoing in the Moody shooting, saying their actions were reasonable based on the threats and their knowledge that Moody often carried a gun.

"The Detectives involved in the shooting of Corey Moody were justified in their use of force and … no criminal charges will be pursued against them," the seven-page report concluded. The report said the officers "acted reasonably in relation to the immediate threat they perceived" based on the circumstances and their "prior knowledge of Moody."

Gibson believed the detective leaning into the car was "in imminent danger of serious bodily injury as a result of the continued forward movement of Moody's vehicle," the report said. From Gibson's viewpoint, the report said, "it was necessary to use deadly force to stop Moody from dragging or running over" that officer.

In July 2014, Moody — who now uses a wheelchair — filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against Gibson and other officers. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newport News, alleges that Moody suffered "profound deprivations of his constitutional rights caused by police brutality."

The lawsuit says Moody didn't know about the federal arrest warrant — and didn't know why officers had stopped him and drawn their guns.

"Moody repeatedly asked why he was being pulled over, the nature of the charges against him and other inquiries into this unexplained, aggressive encounter," the lawsuit said. "Moody at no time reached into a console or glove box, into his coat, or made any other furtive motion," before the BMW "was riddled with shots from multiple directions."

Gibson and the other defendant officers deny the allegations, with a jury trial scheduled for February 2016 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. One of Moody's attorneys, Timothy Clancy, said his client declined to comment.

Newport News police, with 420 sworn officers, have shot and killed three people — including Beaty — since January 2009, according to Daily Press archives and annual reports put out by the department. Police have shot and injured five other people, including Moody, during that time.

During the past five years, Myers said, two police officers were struck with bullets from suspects. Though one officer suffered a serious injury, he ''recovered and returned to work,'' Myers said.

Shooting of Kwanza Beaty

On July 4, Gibson and two other officers were looking for Kawanza Beaty after getting a tip that he was carrying a sawed-off shotgun around the Stuart Gardens complex.

Myers said that Beaty, encountered on Oak Avenue at about 2 a.m., ran from three officers — a detective, a canine officer and a sergeant. After they gave chase, he said, Beaty didn't comply with police demands that he drop the weapon.

All three officers were wearing police uniforms, but did not have body cameras, police said.

Myers said the canine officer and a detective saw Beaty pointing the gun at the sergeant, and the detective opened fire. "At least two of the officers, their perception was the gun was being pointed in the direction of the sergeant at the time the shots were fired," Myers said.

Beaty died of a shot that struck his head behind his left ear. The shotgun was recovered at the scene, and found to be unloaded.

Beaty's family disputes the police version of events, calling for an independent investigation into the shooting.

The Newport News Police Department has denied a Daily Press request for all internal disciplinary records pertaining to Gibson, including any violations of police procedure stemming from the Moody case. The department cited an exemption under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act allowing personnel records to be withheld.

The department said the officer who shot Beaty was immediately placed on paid administrative leave on July 4, then returned to work on July 20, performing administrative duty at headquarters since that time.

But the fact that Gibson went back to working the streets following the Corey Moody shooting in 2012 doesn't sit well with everybody.

"It's amazing to me that they would have allowed this," Ellenson said of the Police Department and city. "Given the allegations in the Moody lawsuit, one would have thought that a more prudent course would have been for Officer Gibson to not be on the street, and that he would have served the Police Department in an administrative capacity only."

Attorney defends officer

Gibson declined to comment for this story through one of his lawyers, Shawn W. Overbey. ''He can't make any comments," Overbey said, saying it's Police Department policy for officers not to speak publicly while the internal investigation is underway. Overbey also declined to confirm that Gibson was the officer who shot Beaty.

But Overbey contended it was proper for the Police Department to put Gibson back on the street after the 2012 shooting of Moody.

"It would be a waste of the taxpayers' money to have a trained detective doing administrative duty inside of an office rather than utilizing his skills on the street to assist in eradicating crime," Overbey said. "Mr. Gibson was investigated by the commonwealth's attorney's office and cleared of any criminal wrongdoing with regards to the Moody case, and the Police Department did its own investigation and assessed that Mr. Gibson was fit to return to duty working the streets of Newport News."

Overbey said his representation of Gibson began when the Police Department imposed a minor internal infraction on the officer stemming from the Moody case — but not from the shooting itself. "It was an infraction for something that took place before the shooting occurred," Overbey said, declining to specify the infraction.

But the lawyer said Gibson disputes that violation. Though the blemish would have automatically been removed from Gibson's personnel record after a year, Overbey said, the officer filed a grievance because he found the discipline unwarranted.

That grievance is still pending, with Overbey saying it was put on hold after Moody's federal lawsuit was filed last summer. That suit was filed against Gibson, three other police officers, the department's past and present chiefs, and the City of Newport News.

The city hired a Norfolk lawyer, James A. Cales III, to represent Gibson in the lawsuit.

Cales declined this week to comment on that lawsuit, saying he doesn't comment on pending litigation. In court paperwork responding to the lawsuit, Cales denied all of the report's key claims — including its assertion that the shooting was unjustified. Lawyers representing other defendant police officers also declined to comment.

Another lawsuit to be filed

While that lawsuit is scheduled for trial early next year, Ellenson said he's planning to file a separate civil lawsuit against the city and police officers — this time in Newport News Circuit Court on behalf of the Beaty family.

Aside from his assertion that Gibson should not have been on the street, Ellenson said that "one of the biggest issues in all of this" is that while there were three officers on the scene that day, "only one perceives the young man as a threat."

"The other two officers didn't shoot," Ellenson said.

Without acknowledging that Gibson was the officer who shot Beaty, Overbey responded on Gibson's behalf. Just because only one officer opened fire, the lawyer said, "doesn't mean that the other two officers did not perceive Mr. Beaty as a threat."

"They may not have had a clear line of sight and may not have drawn their weapons as quickly as the third one was," Overbey said. "Like they're going to wait until the sergeant is shot? Really? How do we explain that to his family?"

"The shooter did what he was trained to do," he added. "He disabled the threat. … Oftentimes the failure to respond to a threat will result in the loss of life to a fellow officer or a citizen in the community. Although we may not like it, officers are trained to protect and serve, and sometimes that includes discharging a firearm which may result in the death of another person."

Ellenson responded: "Inasmuch as no independent investigation was done, and inasmuch as all we really have are self-serving statements on the part of the police officers, it's really hard to tell if any threat was perceived or not — and that is why we need to go to trial as soon as possible."

In a letter to Mayor McKinley Price earlier this month, Ellenson said the mayor was "put on notice over a year ago of the problems" with the Police Department in the Moody case, but "you did nothing" but allow the city's lawyers to throw up legal roadblocks.

Now, Ellenson said, another man has been killed.

The jurors "can hear all the facts and make a decision as to whether ... the officer acted appropriately," Ellenson told Price. "We both know that the Commonwealth's Attorney will not file criminal charges, so allow this (civil) trial to occur swiftly and transparently. … It's the least you can do."

Price declined last week to address Ellenson's assertions. "On advice from the City Attorney, Mayor Price will not be commenting on the letter from Mr. Ellenson," city spokeswoman Kim Lee wrote in an email to the Daily Press.

Dujardin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4749.

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