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Virginia Beach Police Chief talks about morale and department review of four high profile cases

Posted at 5:44 PM, May 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-29 17:44:28-04

Virginia Beach, VA - 11 Virginia Beach Officers were removed from the streets and had their actions reviewed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney in recent weeks following four high profile cases.

Virginia Beach Chief James Cervera says he could have done a better job of explaining what was going on.

"Let me be clear to the public, let me be clear with my officers.  The information transferred to the officers was not as complete as it should've been and I take responsibility for that, but what we wanted to do was make sure that there was no second guessing when we made a final decision," said Cervera.

The officers were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and are back to work.

But an internal investigation is still pending for each one to determine if they broke department policy by the amount of force they used.

In three cases, police shot at suspects. In the fourth, a video went viral of a violent arrest at the Oceanfront.

Police shootings are automatically reviewed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney but the chief was part of a decision to have this one reviewed too.

"In a case like this, morale of the officers would suffer because suddenly they're being up in the spotlight, suddenly morale will go down,” said Cervera.

But the Chief said they’re working to improve communication.

"We have been working on it for a couple of months, but this brought it to a quick head...We are going to kind of reboot our training, and beginning this September through the fall, everyone will get a refresher course on all of our use of force training and all of our use of force policies from the chief all the way down to the line operation officers to the guys that really do the job," said Cervera.

Last Wednesday, the Commonwealth’s Attorney of Virginia Beach released several letters clearing officers who were involved in recent shootings in the city.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney found that all of the officers acted properly under the circumstances and there will be no criminal charges against any of them.  Officers Bradley Colas, Mark Bennett, Ewell Pittman, Daniel Ertmann, Sean Garvin, Daniel Herring, Eli Kendrick, and Jeremy Molnar are all eligible to return to regular duty.

The first incident happened on May 1 on King Henry Court. Police say Christopher Cody Smith strangled his wife and shot his best friend. While on the scene helping the two victims, police say Smith shot at them and ran inside of an apartment.  Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera says this went on for about 20 minutes.  Smith jumped out of a window and ran into the woods. He was eventually apprehended. He was found with two weapons and a third was inside of his pants.

The second occurred on May 8th on 5522 Baccalaureate Drive after police say James Wallace White shot his wife to death and wounded one of her sons.  Police say White shot at them and that’s when they exchanged gunfire and White was hit. He suffered a non-life threatening injury.

The most recent incident happened on May 15th on Newtown Road and Baker Road where two suspected armed robbers walked into a Boost Mobile location and held a customer hostage.  One of the men accused in the incident, Louis Vasquez, was shot after police say he exchanged fire with officers. He has been charged with robbery, abduction and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

A full report will not be released until criminal proceedings are completed.

The Virginia Beach Police Union released the following statement:

“The association was always confident that our officers did what was right.  We are grateful to the commonwealths attorney for not allowing politics to enter into the decision and for standing up for our officers and ultimately law enforcement everywhere. We also thank Chief Cervera for working closely with the Virginia Beach Police Association while resolving this matter.”

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Police shoot suspect after robbery, hostage situation in Boost Mobile; another suspect on the loose