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Posted on: September 22, 2023

Legal Conclusion Following Officer-Involved Shooting of Antonio J. Beekman

The following is contents of a letter dated Sept. 22, 2023, from Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Ramin Fatehi to Virginia State Police Captain Timothy A. Reibel detailing Mr. Fatehi's legal conclusion following the officer-involved shooting of Antonio J. Beekman on June 21, 2022, in Larchmont:

Dear Captain Reibel:

I have reviewed your use-of-force investigation into the incident that took place in the 5500 block of Monroe Place in the City of Norfolk on June 21, 2022, during which Norfolk Police Department Special Operations Team Officers Brian Conn, Leroy Lewis, Joshua Jeffcoat, and Vincent Tocco returned fire at and fatally wounded Antonio J. Beekman while attempting to serve Mr. Beekman with a felony warrant for malicious wounding.  The officers justifiably used lethal force, because Mr. Beekman, a wanted violent-felony suspect, shot at them multiple times, putting them in reasonable fear for their lives and the safety of each other and other people.  

Had Mr. Beekman survived this incident, I would have sought to charge Mr. Beekman with multiple counts of attempted malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of that offense, and possessing a firearm as a convicted violent felon.  In returning fire, these officers acted properly to protect the public, and so there are no criminal charges to file against Officers Conn, Lewis, Tocco, and Jeffcoat.  

Facts

A little after 1:00 A.M. on May 30, 2022, Mr. Beekman was at a 7-Eleven convenience store on Holland Road in the City of Virginia Beach.  The clerk at the store had just turned away a teenager who had tried to buy a cigar.   Mr. Beekman went in and bought the cigar for the teenager, telling the clerk that he was not buying the cigar for the teenager.  The clerk, who had followed Mr. Beekman out of the store to go on break, saw Mr. Beekman give the cigar to the teenager, and the clerk told Mr. Beekman not to do that.   Mr. Beekman drove away but came back a short time later, walked around the building, found the clerk still outside on break, drew a nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol, and shot at the clerk multiple times, wounding the clerk in the foot and putting a bullet in his car.   Mr. Beekman left the store before police arrived.  The clerk had never met Mr. Beekman before.

The Virginia Beach Police Department (“VBPD”) investigated the case and were able to recover a shell casing that Mr. Beekman left behind and to identify Mr. Beekman through the credit-card transaction he made to buy the cigar.  On June 9 the VBPD took out felony arrest warrants charging Mr. Beekman with maliciously wounding the clerk.  At the time of the Virginia Beach offense, Mr. Beekman could not legally possess a gun due to prior felony convictions, including a 2001 conviction for armed robbery.

The VBPD Warrant-Fugitive Unit (“WFU”) learned that Mr. Beekman was living in an apartment in the 5500 block of Monroe Place in the Larchmont section of Norfolk.  The WFU had tried to arrest Mr. Beekman—a truck driver—at his place of work, but Mr. Beekman worked long hours, and they were unable to do so.

Next, WFU detectives contacted the Norfolk Police Department (“NPD”) Special Operations Team (“SOT”) and made a plan to work together to arrest Mr. Beekman and to serve a search warrant at his residence for evidence of the Virginia Beach shooting he had committed.  WFU detectives warned NPD that they expected Mr. Beekman to be armed and dangerous. 

Shortly before 5:00 A.M. on June 21, 2022, WFU detectives in unmarked cars parked around the block of Monroe Place near Mr. Beekman’s apartment, spotted a gray Nissan Altima sedan they knew Mr. Beekman to drive, and prepared to look out for Mr. Beekman.  NPD SOT Officers Conn, Lewis, Jeffcoat, and Tocco had volunteered the day before to serve as the lead team to arrest Mr. Beekman.

The four SOT officers were a block away at the corner of Monroe Place and Bolling Avenue in an unmarked NPD Chevrolet Suburban SUV.   Officer Conn was driving.  Sitting next to him was Officer Lewis.  Officer Jeffcoat was sitting in the left rear seat behind the driver, Officer Conn.  Officer Tocco was sitting in the rear passenger-side seat behind Officer Lewis.

Each officer was in a dark blue tactical uniform wearing a harness with the word “POLICE” across the chest and back, a metal badge on the hip, a .45 caliber Glock 21 semiautomatic pistol in a holster, and an Axon body-worn camera on the chest.  The officers also had available their Knight’s Armament SR-16 rifles.

Just after the SOT officers arrived, Mr. Beekman walked out of his apartment by himself, crossed a grassed field, and walked up to his car on Monroe Place.  Mr. Beekman was armed with the same nine-millimeter pistol—a Sig Sauer P226 Elite—that he had used to shoot and wound the 7-Eleven clerk in Virginia Beach, though the pistol was not visible.  VBPD WFU detectives radioed that they had spotted Mr. Beekman walking to his car.  At the time the sun had not yet risen, it was dark, and the streetlights were on.

Once the SOT officers got WFU’s signal, Officer Conn drove north on Monroe Place and stopped the SOT SUV half a car-length behind Mr. Beekman’s car.  The blue police lights on the SOT SUV were off, but the headlights and taillights were on.   Officer Tocco reminded the team to turn on their body cameras.

As Officer Conn stopped the SUV, all four SOT officers opened their car doors to get out.  Officer Lewis, the front-seat passenger, saw Mr. Beekman pull his gun, possibly from his waistband.  Officer Lewis was able to say, “let me see your hands,” two times as he was getting out of the SUV.  By the time that Officer Lewis’s feet were on the ground, Mr. Beekman had opened fire on him and the other officers.  Officer Lewis saw five muzzle flashes from Mr. Beekman’s gun as Mr. Beekman fired at him and the other officers.  Fearing for his own and his colleagues’ lives, Officer Lewis returned fire, taking five shots from his SR-16 rifle before taking cover behind a black Lincoln Navigator SUV.

One of the shots that Mr. Beekman fired at Officer Lewis went through the B-pillar frame of Officer Lewis’s door, missing the window glass by one to two inches.  Another shot that Mr. Beekman fired went into the front grille of the Navigator and lodged in the radiator; Officer Lewis later recalled hearing the hiss of escaping gas.  Officer Lewis heard many more gunshots, and by the time that Officer Lewis came out from behind the Navigator, Mr. Beekman was on the ground.

Officers Conn, Tocco, and Lewis heard the shots and returned fire at Mr. Beekman with their .45 caliber pistols, watching Mr. Beekman running back toward the apartment building while firing his pistol over his shoulder.

Mr. Beekman fired at least eight shots at the officers and thankfully missed.  The officers did not.  Mr. Beekman fell to the ground, mortally wounded, in the field roughly 20 feet from his car, still holding his gun up.  Once the officers saw Mr. Beekman’s gun no longer in his hand, they stopped shooting.

The officers came up to Mr. Beekman’s body, checked his vital signs, and correctly assessed that he was beyond medical help.   After handcuffing Mr. Beekman as an additional security measure, the officers checked each other and make sure that Mr. Beekman had not hit them.  The officers saw—and body-worn camera footage confirmed—that the slide on Mr. Beekman’s pistol was locked back, meaning that he had fired all of his ammunition and had run out. 

Multiple other officers arrived at the scene, including the VBPD WFB investigators and other members of NPD and NPD SOT.  Those officers worked together to close off the shooting scene and informed senior members of the NPD command staff of the situation.  Uninvolved members of NPD SOT later helped serve the search warrant on Mr. Beekman’s apartment.

Pursuant to longstanding and commendable NPD policy, NPD contacted your agency, the Virginia State Police (VSP) Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) to investigate the officer-involved use of force.   I also received notice of this incident and responded to the scene myself.

VSP BCI special agents took over the scene, collected evidence, took photographs and measurements, and conducted interviews of the SOT officers and the other involved parties.  Among the items that the agents collected from the scene were Mr. Beekman’s pistol and the four guns the officers had fired, plus a number of shell casings and a smaller number of bullets and bullet fragments, submitting them all to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science for ballistics analysis.

The special agents recovered nine nine-millimeter shell casings, all of which matched Mr. Beekman’s pistol, meaning that Mr. Beekman had fired at least nine shots at the officers. The police also recovered a spent bullet from the pavement between the passenger side of Mr. Beekman’s car and the curb; that bullet also matched Mr. Beekman’s gun.  Finally, the ballistics analysis matched Mr. Beekman’s gun to a shell casing that the VBPD had collected from when Mr. Beekman had shot the 7-Eleven clerk.

A firearms primer-residue analysis showed particles characteristic of primer residue on Mr. Beekman’s hands.  

An autopsy determined that Mr. Beekman died of multiple gunshots, more than one of which would have been fatal on its own.   At least seven of the 21 gunshot wounds were to the front or side of Mr. Beekman’s body.

Your forensic investigators recovered the guns from the SOT officers and the officers’ shell casings from the scene, along with some spent bullets from the scene and the autopsy.

All four SOT officers spoke to your investigative team, as did members of the VBPD WFU and other individuals involved in the serving of the search warrant later in the day.

Legal Standard

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that law-enforcement officers may use deadly force to arrest (and by inference to neutralize) a dangerous individual:

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, 11–12 (1985).

The Court has further explained:

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 judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.

Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396–97 (1989). 

Virginia Code § 19.2-83.5(A) permits the use of deadly force if:

  1. The law-enforcement officer reasonably believes that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect the law-enforcement officer or another person, other than the subject of the use of deadly force, from the threat of serious bodily injury or death;
  2. If feasible, the law-enforcement officer has provided a warning to the subject of the deadly force that he will use deadly force;
  3. The law-enforcement officer’s actions are reasonable, given the totality of the circumstances; and
  4. All other options have been exhausted or do not reasonably lend themselves to the circumstances.

Virginia Code § 19.2-83.5(B) lays out factors to consider when weighing the reasonableness of the use of deadly force:

  1. The reasonableness of the law-enforcement officer’s belief and actions from the perspective of a reasonable law-enforcement officer on the scene at the time of the incident; and
  2. The totality of the circumstances, including
    1. the amount of time available to the law-enforcement officer to make a decision; 
    2. whether the subject of the use of deadly force 
      1. possessed or appeared to possess a deadly weapon and 
      2. refused to comply with the law-enforcement officer's lawful order to surrender an object believed to be a deadly weapon prior to the law-enforcement officer using deadly force; 
    3. whether the law-enforcement officer engaged in de-escalation measures prior to the use of deadly force, including taking cover, waiting for backup, trying to calm the subject prior to the use of force, or using non-deadly force prior to the use of deadly force;
    4. whether any conduct by the law-enforcement officer prior to the use of deadly force intentionally increased the risk of a confrontation resulting in deadly force being used; and
    5. the seriousness of the suspected crime.

Finally, the Virginia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have further recognized that a law-enforcement officer may use deadly force to protect himself, others, or the general public from what a reasonable observer would consider to be the imminent use of deadly force.  See generally Mercer v. Commonwealth, 150 Va. 588, 599–600 (1928); Foster v. Commonwealth, 13 Va. App. 380, 385–86 (1991).  

Analysis

Mr. Beekman began shooting at SOT Officers Conn, Lewis, Jeffcoat, and Tocco as soon as they stepped out of their SUV.  Given that Mr. Beekman was shooting at them, the officers had no choice but to respond to Mr. Beekman’s deadly force to protect themselves, each other, and anyone else nearby.  Those facts by themselves are enough to justify the officers’ actions, and an examination of the factors in Virginia Code § 19.2-83.5 reinforces that conclusion.

Under Virginia Code § 19.2-83.5(A)(1) and (A)(3), the officers reasonably believed that they must use deadly force, and their actions were reasonable given the totality of the circumstances.  Given how quickly Mr. Beekman opened fire, there was no time for the officers to warn Mr. Beekman that they would use deadly force, and there were no other options for the officers under the circumstances.  See Code § 19.2-83.5(A)(2) and (A)(4).

Turning to the factors in Code § 19.2-83.5(B), under the totality of the circumstances:

    1. The officers had no more than a split second to decide how to protect themselves from Mr. Beekman’s gunfire;
    2. Mr. Beekman:
      1. Not only possessed a deadly weapon but used it, and;
      2. Refused to comply with Officer Lewis’s orders to show his hands;
    3. While Officer Lewis took cover briefly to assess the situation and protect himself, that option was largely unavailable to the other officers while they were actively under fire from Mr. Beekman and unable to predict what Mr. Beekman would do next;
    4. Nothing the officers did intentionally increased the risk of a deadly confrontation; and
    5. Mr. Beekman, previously convicted of a violent firearms-related felony, was wanted for another violent firearms-related felony, namely maliciously shooting a blameless victim.

In short, Officers Conn, Lewis, Jeffcoat, and Tocco found themselves under fire from Mr. Beekman.  The officers had a duty to respond in kind to neutralize Mr. Beekman, and they did so.  Officers Conn, Lewis, Jeffcoat, and Tocco responded to a deadly situation exactly how their training and the law of necessity required them to do.

Had Mr. Beekman survived his catastrophic mistake in opening fire on these officers, he would have faced indictment for multiple counts of attempted malicious wounding, the use of a firearm in the attempt to commit malicious wounding, and possessing a firearm as a convicted violent felon, and I would have prosecuted him on those charges.

Conclusion

We owe Officers Conn, Lewis, Jeffcoat, and Tocco our thanks for making a wrenching and split-second decision to use force in service to public safety.  These officers were legally justified in using the force necessary to protect themselves and the public from Mr. Beekman’s dangerous and illegal conduct.

While it is unfortunate that Mr. Beekman has died, the responsibility for his death sits squarely on his own shoulders.  My heart goes out to Mr. Beekman’s family members.   They have done nothing wrong, and even though Mr. Beekman bears responsibility for his death, his family is entitled to grieve the loss of their loved one.

Finally, please allow me to express my appreciation to you and your investigators—in particular Senior Special Agent Aaron G. Warren—for the highly professional work you devote to these use-of-force investigations and to the Norfolk Police Department for their cooperation in these important cases.   You set an example for how agencies can build public trust through transparency and a search for the truth no matter where it leads.  Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Ramin Fatehi

Commonwealth’s Attorney


CC: Mark Talbot, Chief of Police, City of Norfolk

Bernard A. Pishko, Esq., City Attorney

Ali T. Sprinkle, Esq., Counsel for Officer Conn

Andrew A. Protogyrou, Esq., Counsel for Officer Lewis

Thomas L. Sheppard, II, Esq., Counsel for Officers Tocco and Jeffcoat

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