Norfolk Police Chief on use of K-9 force in detaining NSU student: “It’s my fault”

Posted at 7:09 PM, Jan 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-30 19:24:04-05

Norfolk, Va. - Norfolk Police Chief Michael Goldsmith is taking responsibility and taking action after a Norfolk State University was attacked by a police K-9 over the weekend.

The family of 20-year-old London Colvin says she got more than 40 stitches and needs plastic surgery after this weekend's attack.

Police say it happened on January 25th. They were called out to Godfrey Street for a fight involving 35 people.  Police told NewsChannel 3 the officers used the K-9 because they were outnumbered and because Colvin was being disorderly.

Colvin's friends and family are demanding justice, saying police crossed the line.

Chief Goldsmith stepped up Thursday, releasing a statement addressing the incident, stating that based on the information he has received, he has determined the use of force in Colvin's arrest to be unreasonable.

"Since January 25th, my department has been investigating the arrest of London Colvin.  While we continue to wrap up the final few interviews with witnesses and officers, I feel I have enough information to determine the use of force in Ms. Colvin’s arrest was unreasonable.

I will address my officers’ actions through our disciplinary process.

My review of the policies governing the use of police canines continue.  This review will ensure that Norfolk canines are used appropriately in all circumstances.   As Chief, I am responsible for the policies and procedures that govern my officers’ actions.  While I expect my officers to make the best judgment in all circumstances, if the policy doesn’t support the outcomes I expect, I have failed them.  I am committed to having the best trained department and I will make this right."

"It's my fault," Chief Goldsmith said in a press conference on Thursday. "We had other levels of force we could have gone to to accomplish the arrest for Ms. Colvin. The use of the K-9 was not necessary in this case. It was unreasonable use of it."

Witnesses say  Colvin, who got punched in the fight, didn't want to speak to officers when they questioned her because she was upset. Her friends who were there said Colvin tried to walk away when out of nowhere she was pinned to the ground by police and attacked by the German Shepherd.

"We had officers who had pepper spray, who had tasers, we had police batons, there were other options that could have been used at that point besides the K-9," the chief said.

NewsChannel 3 has tried to speak to Colvin herself to get her version of the story, but she has been advised by the NAACP not to talk to the media. However, Colvin did say she was "glad to hear the news" of Chief Goldsmith's decision and that she will continue consulting with the NAACP regarding moving forward on getting her charges of Disorderly Conduct and Resisting Arrest dropped.

Since the incident, friends and family have been stepping forward to come to her defense.

"Do you see her legs," Colvin's cousin Whitney Dunn asked NewsChannel 3. "That gets me angry, it gets me sad. I cried with her mom because we don't understand, London doesn't understand why they would do that, why they would put those dogs on her?"

"It has everything to do with the police feeling like they are untouchable," said witness Ray'Shaun Beckett. "They can do whatever they want because they have that badge."

Beckett was there when it all went down. He says he, Colvin and other friends were leaving a house party when the huge fight broke out. He says both he and Colvin were punched out of nowhere.

"When she was punched in the face, she fell on the ground and that's what initially set her off," Beckett said.

He admits, Colvin got mad. So he and another friend, Carmen Chatman tried to calm her down. Chatman says that's when police showed up.

"London was walking away," Chatman said.  "She didn't want to talk to the officers, she didn't want to talk to anyone."

Both Beckett and Chatman says that's when police tackled Colvin to the ground and pinned her. They say she was down for a few minutes when they saw the police K-9 latch to her legs.

"From what we saw, London was already being detained on the ground. I don’t remember her trying to flinch or push herself up or try to get up or run away," Chatman added.

Now, her friends and family are seeking justice. Hoping that the officers involved will lose their badge.

"The officers were wrong," her cousin said.

Chief Goldsmith says once he completes his review of the use of police canines, he will make the revised policy available publicly.

NewsChannel 3 got a copy of the current policy Friday. Click here to read what it says.

"It's up to me to make sure our policies are right, to make sure the officers have the appropriate tools to use, and to make sure we give them the tools we use to make the best judgment to guarantee the best outcome we can when we have to take police action," he says.

Norfolk State University also provided a statement regarding the incident:

“We are aware of the incident involving one of our students this past weekend. Our main concern, as it would be with any student, is Ms. Colvin’s well-being, safety, as well as supporting her academic pursuits.”

“The nature of her involvement with law enforcement is a separate issue and all questions should be referred to the Norfolk Police Department.” 

Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim also released a  statement about the incident.

“Police officers have to make split-second judgments and decisions.  Typically, Norfolk police officers make the right calls, “ said Norfolk Mayor Paul D. Fraim. “However, when you make poor judgments, you have to own up to it and that’s what we are doing.  I think we have all learned that you have got to be constantly vigilant to make sure that we are in good communication with the community and that you maintain good relationships.”