VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - A police sergeant was cleared of wrongdoing for handcuffing an innocent Black man in a Virginia Beach food court, but he’ll be disciplined for not wearing a mask during the encounter, the city’s police chief told city council members.
Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate said in a briefing Tuesday that his department’s two-week investigation showed the officer, who he identified as Sgt. Coffrin, did not violate any laws or policies, The Virginian-Pilot reported. Police launched the probe after a video of the Dec. 19 encounter at Lynnhaven Mall went viral on social media.
The chief said Coffrin and another officer who was with him will be disciplined for not wearing masks, but didn’t clarify what their punishments will be. The man who was detained, Jamar Mackey, tested positive for COVID-19 three days after the incident. The sergeant has tested negative.
The police chief had apologized to Mackey when police announced they were launching the probe, and said this week that the apology was warranted, but Mackey’s detainment “was all reasonable and in accordance with the law,” based on what officers knew at the time.
The incident began with a woman’s report that her purse had been stolen, by a Black man with dreadlocks, wearing all black clothes and accompanied by a child wearing red. Mackey matched the description - and so did another man who also was detained in the food court, Markee Smith.
The chief displayed side-by-side photos of Mackey and Smith during Tuesday’s briefing - both are Black, have long dreads, were dressed in all-black clothing, standing next to a boy who was wearing red.
Officers sorted out the confusion at the scene, arresting Smith on charges of credit card fraud and receiving stolen goods. They released Mackey a short time after handcuffing him and escorting him out of the mall.
“When we evaluate the stop and evaluate the circumstances based on the factors that were just presented, all the information the sergeant knew at the time, we concluded that the sergeant had reasonable suspicion to detain Mr. Mackey,” the chief said.
Mackey could be heard on the video saying his treatment is why people say “Black Lives Matter.” The chief spoke to that, saying that a review panel will look for possible improvements in the department’s policies and training. He also said that all officers will take a course on implicit bias, and body cameras will be issued to officers in supervisory roles.
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