By Taylor Boyd
The Virginia State Police (VSP) trooper involved in the shooting death of a man in January will not be prosecuted, according to Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Brinegar Vipperman.
In a March 8 letter to VSP Capt. Jeff Bartlett, Vipperman said the use of force was reasonable and necessary as the danger confronting the trooper “was real and immediate, and he had no other course available to him. He was literally looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. It is difficult to conceive a situation more life threatening than that confronting” the trooper.
Based on the available evidence and under applicable Virginia law, Vipperman said the trooper’s “use of force was justified as a lawful exercise of self-defense.”
The incident began to unfold with a call to the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office 911 Communications Center from a call from a woman involved in an alleged domestic dispute in the 1700 block of Mill House Road in the Woolwine area.
During the call, the dispatcher heard a man shouting threats to kill the calling woman.
Officers that included the trooper were dispatched to the address. The trooper was the first to arrive on scene. He was wearing his standard gray uniform, a dark coat with an embroidered badge of authority, and his campaign hat, and was driving his marked patrol car. His microphone was also recording audio throughout the entire incident.
The trooper knocked and announced his presence as “State Police” one time, according to the letter. He was told to come in by the woman, who had visible signs of injury to her face.
A man then entered the kitchen area with a firearm. The trooper commanded the man to drop the firearm five times. The man began to raise his firearm, and pointed it in the trooper’s direction. The trooper then fired three times. After the man fell to the floor, the trooper immediately requested an ambulance, Vipperman said.
A Patrick County Sheriff’s deputy arrived to the scene about 30 seconds after the trooper. The deputy was walking towards the residence when shots were fired. Neither the trooper or the man were within the deputy’s camera view when shots were fired. However, an audio/video body camera attached to the deputy’s vest recorded the rest of the incident.
Both the deputy and the trooper gave first aid to the man until rescue arrived. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Vipperman said when the man ignored the trooper’s command to drop the firearm and then proceeded to point it at the trooper, the man “set into motion the life and death decision” the trooper was required to make.
“It is clear from the evidence that the decedent was armed with a semi-automatic handgun; had threatened its use against” the woman “especially if law enforcement showed up; and was willing to aim it at the law enforcement officer,” she said.
In her letter, Vipperman wrote that it would have taken only a split second for the man to pull the trigger, killing either the trooper or the woman.
The trooper “shot the decedent only when it became necessary to do so in order to save his” or the woman’s life or prevent serious bodily harm to either of them, Vipperman wrote.