Commonwealth’s Attorney requests no police officers wear uniforms during Rankin trial

Posted at 11:22 AM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-17 18:52:32-05

Portsmouth, Va. - The Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney has filed a motion requesting that no police officers wear uniforms during former police officer Stephen Rankin's murder trial, according to Rankin's attorney Nicole Belote.

Rankin was arrested in early September 2015 on first-degree murder and firearm charges for shooting and killing 18-year-old William Chapman during a fight on April 22nd in the Portsmouth Walmart parking lot.

An autopsy report shows that Rankin shot Chapman in the chest and face, that Chapman was not drinking or using drugs at the time, and that his pant pockets were turned inside out.

Belote says if the Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney's request isn't granted, she will ask the court to limit the number of uniformed law enforcement officers to 10 or less. She would also ask the court to restrict more than three of the officers from sitting together.

When asked if she was angry about the request, Belote told NewsChannel 3 reporter Margaret Kavanagh she's not necessarily angry.

"I wouldn't say I am angry. It is quite unfortunate that she desires to restrict the same individuals with whom she works on a daily basis and, under other circumstances, wants in the courtroom."

Sallie Chapman, William Chapman's mom, said the motion was welcome news.

"If they're coming, they should be in plain clothes," Chapman said. "I just felt like it wasn't about my son [in previous hearings], I just felt like it was about Rankin and it's not about him, it's about what he done, which was take somebody's life."

A concern raised in the motion was the effect so many uniformed officers could have on a jury, saying "The stifling presence of so many law enforcement officers will have a chilling effect on the jury's ability to deliberate with open minds and without fear of rendering a verdict based solely on the law and evidence presented."

"It's intimidating to have that many officers show up," said Earl Lewis, Chapman's cousin.

Sheriff Bill Watson said he think it's a bad idea to prohibit officers from wearing their uniforms.

"If you can wear that uniform to work an off-duty job, you can wear that uniform to go into a courtroom, whether you're working or not.  I can guarantee you one thing, if those police officers came into the courtroom on [another] court date to testify and they're wearing jeans and a t-shirt, what would happen?  You can't have it both ways," Watson said.


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