Virginia Beach mother pushes for body-worn cameras for State Troopers

Phoenix Police Body Cameras
Posted at 3:50 PM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 17:31:03-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Tears in her eyes, Laurie Latham sits at her kitchen table with her son's autopsy report piled up in front of her.

"It's just heartbreaking to see all of this [and] read all of this," she said. "I just want peace, and I don't think I'll ever truly have that."

Her son, 23-year-old Coleman Sample, died in August. State Police said they tried to conduct a traffic stop on his vehicle, which was going 92 mph in a 55 mph zone, but he sped off.

Sample ultimately crashed into a Virginia Beach neighborhood, armed, and tried to run away. Cellphone video captured by a witness shows a tussle between Sample and two Troopers, and then you hear a gunshot. Sample died at the scene.

"The autopsy report basically said that the gun, the shot, the bullet that killed my son was from the gun that he had," Latham said. "In my mind, I see what happened in the video -- to me, the Trooper was involved [with his death], but without the body cams and being that close, there's no way to tell."

Latham said if Troopers were equipped with body cameras and not just dash cameras, she would know for sure how the gun went off.

News 3 obtained a copy of the medical examiner's report, which stated, "While the cause of death, a gunshot wound to the head, is obvious in this case, the manner of death is not. A video of the altercation shows two officers, each with a gun in his right hand, attempting to subdue Mr. Sample, who also held a gun in his right hand. Firearms testing confirmed that the fragmented projectile in Mr. Sample's head came from his own gun. It is uncertain how the gun came to be fired, or what the intent was. The manner of death is therefore undetermined."

Latham said, "Either way, just to know that, 'This is exactly what happened.' Not to always have that in my mind to say, 'Well, did he do it? Did it go off accidentally? Did the police do it accidentally or purposely or whatever?' But, you know, without that I'll always have that ache in my heart to say I'll never know."

She's now advocating for Troopers to wear body cameras, but this push isn't anything new.

When the issue was last discussed in the General Assembly, a few concerns came up from lawmakers, including the cost of the cameras, a backlog of storage and the strain on Commonwealth's Attorneys.

Senator Bill DeSteph, an advocate for police body-worn cameras, said, "When you do a court case, now you've got to review the body camera as another piece of evidence for every single case."

The argument standing is that it's an added load on an already overwhelmed system.

DeSteph said the state can find a way to hire more people, but in some cases raw video evidence can save the incident from going to trial in the first place. It will also protect both Troopers and the public from "he said, she said" scenarios.

"I think it's truly beneficial for the officers, and I think it's a debate and a discussion that we need to have," he said.

Currently State Police said they have 300 cameras distributed across the state within the Tactical Field Force operations, specifically for civil disturbance and crowd control response.

DeSteph has a plan for this session to expand those existing cameras to all State Troopers. He said, "This will be a budget amendment, so what I'll do, as I said a minute ago, if it's not in there [I] will put it in the budget. I'll throw in $1 million for a body cameras for the State Police, and I'll go up and argue it or debate it or discuss it."