Lynchburg’s prosecutor says a police officer who shot and killed a suspect last month was justified in the use of deadly force. On the night of Feb. 2 Lynchburg Police officer John Person chased a shooting suspect Ry’Heam Da’Mon Brown, first in his car and then on foot. Prosecutor Bethany Harrison showed body worn camera footage of Officer Person repeatedly telling Brown to stop.
Harrison says Brown was known to police:
Harrison says Brown turned toward Person with a gun in his hand, and Person fired his weapon six times, which Harrison says is consistent with training.
Person won’t face criminal charges. Harrison says they’re now trying to determine where Brown acquired the semi-automatic that he had in his hand.
Here is more information from the Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office:
COMMONWEALTH’S ATTORNEY REPORT
Re: Use of Force February 2, 2023, 17th St. Lynchburg, VA
Involving Ry’Heam Da’Mon Brown and Officer John Person
As Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Lynchburg, I must determine whether the use of deadly force by Lynchburg Police Department Officer John Person on February 2, 2023 amounted to a criminal offense. The purpose of this investigation is not to determine the appropriateness of any Lynchburg Police Department (LPD) policy, procedure, or tactic but solely for the purpose of determining if a criminal act was committed during the attempted apprehension of Ry’Heam Da’Mon Brown. In making my determination, I reviewed reports provided by the Virginia State Police (VSP) who investigated the matter, body worn camera (BWC) footage of the event, a report and statement prepared by LPD Officer Person, photographs of the scene, consultation notes with the medical examiner, Lynchburg Fire Department records, and computer aided dispatch (CAD) records. Additionally, I reviewed Person’s training records from the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. Based upon the law and the evidence in this matter, it is my opinion Officer J. Person’s actions amounted to a justifiable use of deadly force and no criminal charges will be issued.
On March 8, 2023 the assigned VSP Agent, this office’s Victim-Witness Director, and I met with Mr. Brown’s mother where I explained my findings and played Officer Person’s BWC footage.
Summary of the Facts
The following events are documented in reports, CAD records, and BWC footage: On February 2, 2023, Officer J. Person drove his LPD issued and marked patrol vehicle in the Kemper Street area near 12th Street while on duty in the City of Lynchburg. A call came out on the radio around 9:25 p.m. for a report of shots fired around 700 Grady Street with two suspect descriptions: either a short stocky man with a gray sweatshirt or a skinny black male. There were two suspect descriptions as there were multiple callers to Lynchburg Emergency Communications for the same shots fired event and callers had different descriptions of the suspect. There was one description of the suspect car at the time Officer Person heard the radio traffic: a white Hyundai Sonata or
Elantra, both are mid-sized cars with a sedan body style. The distance from the shots fired call to the location of Officer Person was approximately 0.8 mile away or a 3-minute drive by car if someone drove
the speed limits between the destinations.
At 9:26:32 p.m. Officer Person radioed that he had a vehicle in his sight that was a white sedan. He recognized the sedan as one driven by Ry’Heam Brown and the location was now at 13th and Kemper Streets headed toward Park Avenue. Officer Person knew Brown from an attempted traffic stop of the same vehicle three weeks prior to February 2, 2023. During that prior stop that occurred on January 11, 2023, Brown ran from the vehicle and he was not located. His car was searched during the January traffic stop and bullets were found in the vehicle. In addition to this, the officer knew that Brown was known to carry firearms, was affiliated with a criminal street gang, and that Brown recently got out of prison after serving time for a felony conviction of malicious wounding. The white sedan Brown drove was a Chevy Malibu with altered North Carolina temporary tags in violation of Sec. 46.2-722 of the Code of Virginia, a class 1 misdemeanor. Person also knew that Brown’s driver’s license was revoked and thus Brown drove on February 2, 2023 in violation of Sec. 46.2-301 of the Code of Virginia, a class 1 misdemeanor. Officer Person had probable cause to stop Brown and charge him with these offenses.
Officer Person turned on his LPD vehicle flashing lights at 9:26:35 p.m. and additionally turned on his siren at 9:26:55 p.m. to initiate a traffic stop for the criminal violations he witnessed. The officer also had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle to investigate further and determine if Brown was associated with the shots fired call from Grady St. Brown did not yield or pull over in submission to the display of lawful authority but instead executed a series of turns through residential streets to evade the officer. Brown turned onto 13th St., crossed Buchanan St., then drove through a stop sign and turned right onto Pierce St. Brown continued to drive then pulled over on Pierce St. at 9:27:10 p.m. The officer partially stepped out of his driver’s side door to approach Brown but Brown drove off down Pierce St. Officer Person got back into his vehicle and continued to follow Brown with lights and sirens still on. Brown drove down Pierce St. toward 16th St. and drove through another stop sign. Brown encountered another vehicle where Brown could not pass. Brown stopped his vehicle, got out of the driver’s side, left his vehicle running with the driver’s door open, and ran from the officer on foot at 9:27:29 p.m. The officer now had probable cause to arrest Brown for felony eluding in violation of Sec. 46.2-817 of the Code of Virginia.
As Officer Person got out of the driver side of his vehicle he yelled “Ry’Heam stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!” Brown ran toward 16th St. in the direction of Fillmore St. Officer Person was dressed in his LPD issued uniform with his badge displayed. As Officer Person chased Brown on foot, the officer used his radio to give verbal updates and locations to Lynchburg Emergency Communications and to other LPD officers. The officer called out again, “Ry’Heam stop! Stop!” The officer lost sight of Brown once the officer reached Fillmore St. at 9:27:56 p.m. The officer called in that he lost Brown and last saw him headed toward 17th St.
At 9:28:05 p.m. one can see that Officer Person had his department issued firearm in his left hand. The firearm had a flashlight on it that was on as it was dark outside. The display of a firearm during the attempt to apprehend Brown is consistent with procedures taught to Officer Person during law enforcement training for a high risk traffic stop based on a number of factors including if the person being stopped is suspected of crimes involving firearms or other weapons.
At 9:28:20 p.m. Officer Person spotted Brown and called out “(Indecipherable) stop! Stop!” Officer Person called into the radio that he spotted the suspect again and his location. At 9:28:28 p.m. Officer Person called out again “Ry’Heam stop! Stop right now! Stop right now! Stop!” Brown ran ahead in front of the officer. During the last call to stop, Brown fell down as he attempted to turn a corner next to a chain link fence down a poorly lit alley off 17th St. and behind 1700 Fillmore St.
Officer Person closed the distance between himself and Brown. The officer pointed his firearm at Brown and commanded Brown to “Get on the ground! Get on the ground! You’re gonna get tased!” At this same time Brown attempted to stand up. Officer Person was behind Brown and while Brown’s hips and back were in the air in an attempt to get up, the officer pushed him down toward the ground. In Brown’s right rear pants pocket hung a red bandana consistent with Brown’s criminal street gang affiliation. It sounded as if the officer began to say “Stay…” which was interrupted by the sight of a firearm in Brown’s right hand at 9:28:36 p.m. The firearm had a red bandana tied to the extended clip of the semiautomatic handgun’s magazine. Officer Person backed up from Brown at this discovery and yelled, “Stop drop the gun!” at 9:28:38 p.m. Brown’s possession of the firearm violated VA Code Sec. 18.2-308.2 prohibition against possession of a firearm by a convicted violent felon, a felony offense with a 5-year mandatory minimum prison term.
From the time Officer Person commanded Brown to stop and drop the gun, the following occurred in a 2 second time span: Brown did not drop the gun, stop, or stay down. Officer Person was to the left side of Brown when Brown was on the ground. The officer continued to back step away from Brown. Brown got up to his feet with the gun in his right hand while turning to his right when Officer Person fired 6 rounds at Brown ending at 9:28:40 p.m. Over the next 2 seconds, Officer Person called in over the radio “Shots fired LYNCOM! Shots fired! Shots fired! Shots fired!”
Brown laid on the ground on his back. His left arm moved up and down while Officer Person called in shots fired. The firearm could not be seen from the side Officer Person was located in relation to Brown at that time. Officer Person called out to Brown “Ry’Heam do not move! Do not move!” Officer Person called in his location, shots fired, and requested “Medics Code 3.”
By 9:29:03 p.m. another LPD officer arrived in a vehicle where Officer Person called out to the officer, “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun! Watch the gun!” Both of Brown’s arms were still moving up and down. Officer Person approached Brown once other officers were on scene and found the firearm lying next to Brown’s right side on the ground. Officer Person picked up and threw the gun away from Brown. Officer Person’s commanding officer arrived on the scene and ordered Person be escorted from the area with another LPD Officer. Chest compressions on Brown were initiated by LPD officers until medics with the Lynchburg Fire Department arrived and took over care of Brown. By 9:50 p.m. resuscitation was discontinued as Brown was deceased.
Officer Person gave a statement that when he saw Brown with a gun he immediately feared being shot by Brown. Once Brown stood up with the firearm still in his hand and Person saw
Brown turn toward him, Person believed Brown was turning to shoot at him so he shot Brown to protect his life. When Person fired at Brown the thought was to shoot until the threat stopped.
The medical examiner determined the cause of death was gunshot wounds to the torso. Four projectiles were found in the body and 6 projectile paths. Four of the projectile paths were potentially fatal on their own including a projectile that hit the spine, a projectile that entered the right back and ended in the chest, a projectile that entered the left side of the chest below the armpit and ended near the middle back, and a projectile that entered the left front side of the chest near the left nipple and ended in the right armpit/shoulder area. The other 2 projectile paths were through the lefthand palm to the wrist and through the left upper arm to the side.
No other witnesses to the event have come forward. One citizen contacted VSP to report seeing a police officer chasing a person. The citizen saw the police officer with his gun out during the chase, a white car with its door open on the side of the road, and a police car behind it. The citizen heard one gun shot and did not see the shooting.
VSP collected Officer Person’s department issued firearm and Brown’s firearm. Officer Person’s firearm was a Glock 45 semiautomatic pistol loaded with 9mm ammunition and missing 6 bullets consistent with the number of shots fired. Six cartridge casings were found at the scene consistent with the ammunition used by Officer Person and found in locations consistent with Person’s position in relation to Brown when he fired his gun. There was an additional cartridge casing found at the scene unrelated to this case as its position was separate from the other six rounds, it appeared weathered, and had an unreadable head stamp. The headstamps for Officer Person’s six cartridge cases were legible and of the same make as the ammunition for Officer Person’s gun. Brown’s firearm was a Glock 22 semiautomatic handgun with an extended 22 capacity magazine loaded with one bullet in the chamber and 19 total rounds of .40 caliber ammunition. Brown’s Glock 22 was sent to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and examined. Brown’s firearm was functional and able to be test fired.
In a 2018 per curiam opinion, the United States Supreme Court summarized the controlling legal standard as to when an officer may use deadly force:
[W]hether an officer has used excessive force “requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect possess an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgements – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
Kisela v. Hughes, 584 U.S. __ (2018) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989)).
An officer is entitled to use deadly force to protect himself or others only if the amount of force was not excessive and was reasonable in relation to the perceived threat:
The use of deadly force is an act of necessity and the necessity must be shown to exist or there must be shown such reasonable apprehension of imminent danger, by some overt act, as to amount to the creation of necessity. The right to kill in self-defense begins when the necessity begins and ends when the necessity ends…Imminent danger is defined as an immediate and perceived threat to one’s safety or the safety of others.
Couture v. Commonwealth, 51 Va. App. 239 (2008). The same case holds that for there to be a finding of justifiable self-defense, a person must reasonably fear death or serious bodily injury even if the perception is not completely accurate.
It is not essential that the danger should in fact exist. If it reasonably appears to [the one claiming self-defense] that the danger exists, he has the right to defend himself against it to the same extent, and upon the same rules, as would [pertain] in case the danger is real. A [person claiming self-defense] may always act upon reasonable appearance of danger, and whether the danger is reasonably apparent is always to be determined from the viewpoint of the [one claiming self-defense] at the time he acted. Id. at 244.
According to the law the evidence must be viewed from the perspective of a reasonable officer and a determination made whether he reasonably perceived a threat to his life or the life of others to use justifiable self-defense. Here the officer had actual knowledge that Brown was associated with a criminal street gang, was known to carry firearms, had just been released from prison on a charge of malicious wounding, and refused to obey officer commands to stop and submit to lawful authority on a prior and recent occasion. Officer Person had probable cause to believe Brown committed misdemeanor and felony offenses in the officer’s presence. The officer had reasonable suspicion to investigate Brown as a suspect for the shots fired call from Grady Street. Officer Person discovered Brown had a firearm when the officer was right next to Brown where the officer immediately backed away and commanded that Brown stop and drop the gun. Brown did not stop or drop the gun but instead stood up from the ground and began to turn to his right or the same side of his body where he possessed the gun in his right hand. In a 2 second time span the officer gave commands for Brown to stay on the ground, saw the firearm, and gave the command to stop and drop the gun before Brown stood up and began to turn around. A reasonable officer in this situation would perceive this set of circumstances and Brown’s actions to place the officer in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.
The use of deadly force was in justifiable self-defense and was not excessive. The 6 shots fired at Brown’s torso are consistent with the training the officer received at the Central Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. This training indicates that if the use of deadly force is warranted the officer will shoot at center mass to stop the threat and that the officer is not to shoot to wound nor can the officer fire warning shots. The series of 6 shots is also consistent with his training exercises in the use of firearms.
After viewing the BWC footage, I can understand that there could be a thought that Brown intended to run away. I can only factually state that Brown ignored the officer’s repeated commands to stop and the officer’s final command to put the gun down before standing back up and turning to his right. Even if we factor in the possibility that Brown turned intending to run away, the analysis of self-defense remains the same.
Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).
The body worn camera footage will be played at a press conference on March 8, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. at Lynchburg City Hall’s 2nd Floor Training Room.
for the City of Lynchburg