Attorneys worried about impact of former chief’s comments on Portsmouth Police officer’s trial

Posted at 6:42 PM, May 30, 2019

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Attorneys for Police Officer Jeremy Durocher say they're worried comments made by former Police Chief Tonya Chapman could impact Durocher's ability to get a fair trial.

They've requested Durocher's trial be moved out of Portsmouth. A judge is still considering their request.

Durocher is now scheduled to go on trial in November and faces two charges for shooting an armed attempted burglary suspect in October 2017. His attorneys are worried Chapman's comments about her resignation could taint the jury pool. Chapman alleged systemic racism within the department when she resigned in March.

"In her 30 years in law enforcement, she said it's the most racist police department," attorney Don Scott said. "We believe that might prevent Mr. Durocher from being able to get a fair trial."

Durocher, who's white, shot Deontrace Ward, who's African-American, while Ward was running away from him during an attempted burglary investigation. Police said they recovered a gun from Ward's leg.

Ward later pleaded guilty to armed statutory burglary and is serving a prison sentence.

Last fall, a grand jury indicted Durocher for aggravated malicious wounding and using a gun. He's pleaded not guilty and says he was following proper procedure to stop an armed criminal.

The attorneys say they plan to call Chapman as a witness in the case because she was the chief at the time and gave Durocher a valor award for his actions that day.

"If Officer Durocher received an award for the incident that he's now being charged for, how can a police officer who was engaged in his duties, doing exactly what he was supposed to do, have the intent to commit a crime? That's the issue here," said Nick Renninger, Durocher's other attorney.

The prosecutor in the case says it's too early to be able to tell if a change in venue is needed.

In addition, defense attorneys wanted a special prosecutor appointed in the case, citing concerns that Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales has a conflict of interest in the case. Morales' office originally prosecuted Ward before a special prosecutor took over that case. The judge denied that motion.

Click here for our full coverage on this case.