VB commonwealth’s attorney: Troopers won’t face charges for struggle where 23-year-old fatally shot himself in head

Southeast Region

(Photo courtesy: Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia State Police troopers who were involved in a struggle that led to a man shooting himself with his own gun in Virginia Beach last year will not face charges.

Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.

In a seven-page report, Stolle said it was “clear that the troopers were not the proximate cause of the fatal gunshot” that killed 23-year-old Coleman Lamar Sample on Aug. 11.

Sample died from a gunshot wound to the head. The round was fired from his own weapon, which was in his possession at the time of the struggle with troopers, according to Stolle’s report.

In addition to the report, the commonwealth’s attorney also released footage of the pursuit and fatal shooting from state police dash cameras and a witness in the incident. 10 On Your Side has edited that video to stop just as the shooting occurred, but the version released by the commonwealth’s attorney shows the entire incident.

A spokeswoman for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office said Stolle does not intend to be interviewed or comment beyond what was in the report released Wednesday.

The review of the incident by the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office was done at the request of state police. If the office had determined there was criminal wrongdoing, they would be the entity in charge of prosecuting the case. The office is not in charge of determining any civil liability of the troopers involved, nor whether police policy, procedure or tactic was appropriate.

State police were involved in a pursuit of a 2019 Lexus sedan driven by Sample late Aug. 11. It started westbound on Interstate 264. Police said the Lexus was driving recklessly and accelerated up to 92 mph in a 55 mph zone. One of the troopers attempted to stop the vehicle and activated their lights, but the Lexus continued to drive and increase speed.

The one point, the Lexus drove more than 120 mph and aggressively changed lanes to avoid slower traffic.

The pursuit left the interstate and the Lexus ran several red lights, at one point driving in the wrong direction on Indian River Road. The pursuit eventually ended up in the parking lot of Banbury Lake Village Apartments. There, the vehicle struck a parked car and Sample attempted to run from the crash.

One of the troopers caught Sample, but he pulled out a gun, the report said. One of the trooper’s shoulder microphones caught the sound of two gunshots as the second trooper approached the struggle.

The troopers ordered Sample to drop the gun, which was also recorded by the microphones. The struggle was further captured in a witness video as troopers held Sample against the hood of a parked car at the apartments. Both troopers had their guns out and in their right hands.

The report said troopers were attempting to gain control of Sample and his weapon when it was fired, but said it was still in his “exclusive possession and control” when the shooting happened.

“Within one second of Mr. Sample being pinned to the hood of the car, a final gunshot went off, and Mr. Sample went limp,” the report reads.

Witness video shows Sample’s body limp on the hood of the car and a significant amount of blood running down the front. They saw Sample was still alive despite the gunshot wound to his head, so they moved him to the ground and told him to “keep fighting” until medics arrived.

However, the report said the troopers didn’t render aid, only verbally told him to keep fighting.

Crews were unable to save Sample.

The report said physical evidence was found at the scene, including three shell casings near where the struggle happened, a bullet in the engine block of an SUV parked near the struggle, three unfired .45 caliber cartridges, suspected marijuana and other personal items in the Lexus, a Spring Armory .45 caliber handgun possessed by Sample, two Sig Sauer .357 caliber handguns carried by the two troopers involved in the incident.

In the report, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office said there were several inaccurate statements released to the public by Virginia State Police in the days following the shooting.

Despite the errors in initial information from state police, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office said there was verified and reliable evidence from Sample’s autopsy report and the trace evidence and toolmarks section of the Department of Forensic Science.

The report said the bullet entered the back of Sample’s head and ended just behind his left ear. That bullet fragmented, but was found to be a .45 caliber round, matching the caliber of Sample’s gun.

The shell casings found at the scene were also .45 caliber.

Further, DNA analysis of the Springfield Armory gun belonging to Sample showed only one profile — matching Sample’s on the grip, trigger, trigger guard and muzzle.

The report said neither trooper was able to fire Sample’s weapon because they each had their own weapon in their right hand and were holding Sample with their left hand.

Neither of the troopers’ weapons was fired.

The report said the medical examiner listed Sample’s manner of death as “undetermined” because they were unable to determine whether the shot from the Springfield Armory handgun was accidental or intentional. If it was intentional, the medical examiner was unable to determine who or what was the ultimate target of the shot.

“The audio and video recordings, as well as eyewitness accounts of the incident, make it clear the Trooper Turner and Trooper Holmes were attempting to control and disarm Mr. Sample during the physical altercation,” the report said.

The report then delved into the “reasonableness” of the use of force from a “reasonable officer on the scene.” The measure is used by the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the force was justified.

The force used by the first trooper who made physical contact with Sample after he ran from the crashed car was justified, Stolle said, because Sample had endangered troopers and others with his reckless and aggressive driving leading up to the crash. As the trooper attempted to arrest Sample, the 23-year-old struggled and fired two shots. Stolle said the trooper was justified in continuing his use of force after the shots were fired, and both troopers were also justified in drawing their own weapons at that time.

“Unfortunately, the trooper’s efforts to disarm Mr. Sample were unsuccessful and the final, fatal shot took Mr. Sample’s life,” the report said.

Stay with WAVY.com for updates on this developing news.

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