Officer Stephen Rankin was called to a Walmart in Portsmouth, Virginia, at 7:30 am on April 22, 2015. A young black man named William Chapman was accused of shoplifting. The suspect was in the parking lot of the Walmart when Officer Rankin approached him. According to witnesses, the two men struggled when Rankin attempted to place handcuffs on Chapman. The suspect escaped the struggle, but when he turned back, Rankin shot him in the forehead and the chest. Witnesses stated that Chapman’s hands were up and his pockets were turned inside out when he was shot. After the shooting, one witness stated that Rankin began to give Chapman CPR. When the ambulance arrived, Chapman was on the ground in handcuffs, and he was pronounced dead. The autopsy revealed that the shot was fired from several feet away. Rankin was placed on administrative leave (Daugherty, 2015).
On September 3, 2015, Officer Rankin was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He was subsequently fired from the police force in Portsmouth after he voluntarily surrendered himself. However, he was released on $75,000 bond (Johnson, 2015). The first degree murder charge was based on the fact that Rankin chose to use deadly force when it was not required, according to prosecutors. It was noted that the officer, who was formerly a Navy security guard, was well-trained in non-lethal methods of taking down a suspect (Swaine, 2015).
Rankin had a history of killing suspects in questionable circumstances. In April of 2011, he fired 11 times at an unarmed man from Kazakhstan, stating that the man rushed him, in addition to ignoring his verbal orders. He believed that he was in danger even though the suspect was unarmed. However, following that incident, a grand jury declined to indict him, and a civil trial found that his actions were sound. Nevertheless, the Portsmouth police took Rankin off regular patrol duties and kept him on a desk job. At the time of Chapman’s death in 2015, Rankin had been back on patrol for approximately a year (Harki, 2015).
On August 4, 2016, Stephen Rankin was found not guilty on the first degree murder charge but was convicted on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as killing a human being, with no prior intent to kill, that occurs under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance as a response to reasonable provocation. In Virginia, the sentence for voluntary manslaughter can be between one and ten years in prison. Officer Rankin was given two and a half years (AP, 2016).
I believe that the conviction on voluntary manslaughter was more appropriate than the original charge of first degree murder. The latter requires that a murderer commit the crime deliberately or with prior planning, and there was no evidence in this case that Rankin planned to kill Chapman before the incident. Nor did it appear that his response was deliberate or reasonable. Instead, he seemed to be reacting to his internal fears concerning the suspect’s next actions. According to an unnamed Portsmouth police officer who worked with him, Rankin was unpredictable and “afraid of his own shadow” (Swaine, 2016). If that were true, it is not surprising that he acted the way he did. The sentence of two and one-half years in prison is sensible. In my opinion, more than that would be unjustified. Given Rankin’s history, I would hope that he will be provided mental health treatments while in prison. I also hope that he will be protected from prison violence that would only serve to increase his fear.