William Chapman Autopsy Report Show Unarmed Teen Was Killed By Police "From Distance"

August 25th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

A Virginia police officer could face prosecution for the shooting death of an unarmed Black 18-year-old in April after an autopsy report leaked to the Guardian Monday revealed that the victim's body showed no signs of a close-range, physical struggle immediately before the shooting occurred.

According to the autopsy, William L. Chapman II's body did not show the typical signs related to a close-contact struggle around the two gunshot wounds to his head and chest, usually marked by flecks of soot and gunpowder burns on the skin or clothing. Rather, the new information indicates that Chapman was shot by officer Stephen Rankin from a distance that would preclude the existence of the markings—at least 30 inches, according to experts cited by the Guardian.

The state's assistant chief medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Wendy Gunther, said that a definitive ruling would come from Virginia's department of forensic science. A decision on whether or not to prosecute Rankin—for whom Chapman was the second unarmed man to be shot dead by—is expected to come in the following days, the paper reported.

Chapman was shot in the parking lot of a Portsmouth, Virgina Walmart on April 22 after a scuffle with Rankin, who had tried to arrest the 18-year-old on suspicion of shoplifting.

Neither police nor Walmart store managers have yet confirmed that any theft took place that day, and the report notes that Chapman's only belongings were his clothes and shoes.

A lawyer for Chapman's family, Jon Michael Babineau, told the Guardian that based on his own investigation, there was no reason to believe Chapman had stolen merchandise on him.

According to one witness account, Chapman resisted as the officer attempted to handcuff him and "got into a tussle and... ended up breaking apart from the officer." Leroy Woodman, a construction worker who was working nearby, said that the two were in a sort of standoff when the officer pulled out a taser, but dropped it in an ensuing struggle, and eventually pulled out his gun, stepped back and fired two shots into Chapman, who appeared ready to fight. The officer reportedly administered CPR, but Chapman was pronounced dead at the scene soon after.

Babineau also said that abrasions on Chapman's face and chest indicated that the 18-year-old's body was rolled to face the pavement, handcuffed, then rolled onto his back following the shooting, a chain of events at least partially backed up by the leaked autopsy, which noted that Chapman's hands were cuffed behind his back, the Guardian reported.

"If an unarmed person is not in close proximity to the police officer, not in his so-called 'wingspan,' then to say the officer shooting and killing that person is pretty excessive may be the greatest understatement of the year," Babineau said.

According to the Guardian, officer Rankin was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, and a decision whether or not to prosecute him will be based on a prosecutorial review of the case by the Portsmouth commonwealth's attorney, Stephanie Morales, expected to come sometime this week.

A spokesperson for Morales' office did not respond to ATTN:'s phone call Tuesday.

Though Rankin, 36, is widely believed to have been the officer involved in the shooting, police have not confirmed his identity, however an executive director for the Virginia Police Benevolent Association reportedly confirmed Rankin's identity to the Guardian, before retracting the confirmation on the basis of not being authorized to do so.

Reached by phone Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Portsmouth Police Department told ATTN: the department could not comment on a case they were not currently investigating. When asked by ATTN: if Stephen Rankin was an officer at the department, the spokesperson confirmed that an officer with the last name Rankin did indeed work there, however she would not confirm that that officer was connected to the case.

At the time of the shooting in April, officer Rankin had only recently been cleared to return to patrolling the streets following his shooting of an unarmed Kazakh immigrant in February, 2011, according to reports.