Va. Beach Police say detainment of innocent man at mall was justified; victim's lawyer, NAACP respond

Posted at 11:12 PM, Jan 05, 2021

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.— Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate says that the officer seen detaining an innocent Black man at Lynnhaven Mall in a now-viral video from December was justified in his actions. This comes after the video sparked national outrage.

Chief Neudigate began a City of Virginia Beach City Council special meeting Tuesday by apologizing, once again, to Jamar Mackey, who was misidentified as a police suspect while eating in the food court of the mall with his family on December 19.

A separate set of officers stopped another suspect shortly after Mackey was detained based on witnesses’ accounts and surveillance camera video.

“Anyone who is misidentified would be upset, and that’s certainly true for Mr. Mackey and his family,” said Neudigate.

After an internal investigation, police concluded Sgt. Coffrin had reasonable suspicion to detain Mackey based on the information he was provided at the time, including a witness identification.

“[Mackey and the suspect are] the same ethnicity, similar age, similar build, similar clothing, similar hairstyle, same location and both accompanied by a minor or companion wearing a red top,” explained Neudigate.

Neudigate says an officer may handcuff a suspect if the officer has reason to believe a suspect will flee. He says that was a reasonable belief since the suspect was wanted for several charges including grand larceny of an automobile and three counts of credit card fraud.

“While the stop, the detention and the handcuffing were in policy, the failure to wear face covering were not,” said Neudigate. “Sgt. Coffin and the assisting officer were both found out of compliance and will receive appropriate corrective action for the issue of the mask.”

A short time after Mackey was confronted by the unmasked officer, he contracted COVID-19 and is still recovering; however, Neudigate says the officer tested negative for the virus.

Mackey’s lawyer, Don Scott, maintains someone needs to be held accountable.

An apology is not accountability. You have to correct the harm that you've caused, and an apology alone is not enough,” said Scott.

Scott went on to say, “There still has to be a level of responsibility to determine who the right person is before you go to the extreme of handcuffing.”

The chief says the man who was later arrested was led out the mall without cuffs.

Related: Man wrongfully detained in viral Virginia Beach mall video grateful for support after incident

Virginia Beach NAACP President Dr. Karen Hills Pruden is condemning the use of an eyewitness account—which is commonly unreliable according to the Association for Physiological Science—without viewing surveillance video first.

“Unfortunately, people of color cannot be at ease that they will be treated fairly. If this is within policy, then policy needs to change. If the individuals aren’t in place to change the policy, then we as a community need to make sure that the right individuals are in place,” said Pruden.

Neudigate say he wants to make several changes, including department-wide implicit bias training - which he says hasn’t happened in five years - and obtaining additional body-worn cameras for all officers since the officer involved did not have one.