Does Someone Have To Die First? Or Second?
August 9, 2016 (Fault Lines) – The police in the United States kill about 1,000 people annually, about 10,000 people in the last ten years. During that time, 74 police officers have been charged with a crime in connection with those killings. That works out to 0.74%, a rate less than one percent. To date, about a third have been convicted, a third acquitted, and the remaining third are pending trial. According to the Guardian newspaper in the U.K., about 20% of those killed by police have been unarmed. Two of those have been killed by former Portsmouth, Virginia police officer Stephen Rankin.
My colleague, Matt Brown, wrote about the then pending Rankin trial in February, focusing on the angst of the prosecutor over the possibility of having police pack the courtroom in support of Rankin. Matt’s point was well taken, the prosecutor was whining about the impact police would have on the jurors. I don’t intend to cover that, I intend to look at what was going on at the police department.
Back in 2011, in April, Kirill Denyakin, 23, was shot 11 times in the common area of the apartment building where he was staying with friends. Denyakin was unarmed and reportedly intoxicated, but according to Rankin, charged at the officer while his hands were at his waist. So Rankin shot him, 11 times. Even though he “forgot” his belt microphone for the vehicle’s dashcam, the grand jury no-billed Rankin in the shooting.
That seems normal, so far. Except that there were some troubling issues surrounding Rankin. You see, police brass had criticized Rankin for a Facebook post, since removed, that named his firearms container as “Rankin’s box of vengeance,” and that it would be better if he were dirtying up his firearms instead of cleaning them.
And then there was his avatar. Rankin used a photograph of a Serbian man hanging from a light pole. Or he did until the brass jumped on him about it.
An officer who worked with Rankin said he was unsteady and was “afraid of his own shadow.” His own lieutenant told the command staff before the first shooting that Rankin was dangerous. The lieutenant thought that someone was likely to get hurt by Rankin. That someone was apparently Denyakin, and Rankin got involved in social media for that, too. Using an anonymous name, Rankin posted:
22 mil wont buy your boy back.
He also claimed that Denyakin was “a habitual drunk working as a hotel cook.”
Okay, so what if he was? Habitual drunks have a right to live too, and someone has to cook in hotel restaurants.
It appeared that someone at the Portsmouth Police department was taking this seriously at first, because after Rankin was no-billed, his administrative leave ended and he returned to duty. Except that they did not put him back on the street, they put him on a desk for almost three years.
I’ve seen that before. An officer at a nearby jurisdiction had to shoot and kill someone on duty. He remained assigned to patrol, but was also assigned as the desk officer every day for a couple of years. He eventually shot a dog while off-duty and left that department. I don’t remember if he resigned or was fired, but the administration there didn’t want him on the street. Other officers who had been involved in shootings had not been treated the same.
You know, there’s another solution. The public can tell their politicians that officers be held accountable for their actions. That civil service protection and police bills of rights not be allowed to prevent departments from taking action to remove problem officers. But that’s not the current state of affairs in police work, and departments don’t take action.
So a day or so short of the four-year anniversary of the shooting of Denyakin, Rankin answered a call at the local Wal-Mart on a possible shoplifting. Rankin confronted William Chapman, 18, who was unarmed. Minutes later, Chapman was dead, with gunshot wounds to the chest and face.
So now we have a second unarmed dead civilian, both at the hands of a single officer. Like the first time, the Virginia State Police investigated the shooting, only this time, the grand jury indicted Rankin for murder. Once indicted, Portsmouth finally did what they should have done much earlier, they fired Rankin. And earlier this month, a jury convicted Rankin of Voluntary Manslaughter, recommending a 2½ year prison sentence.
The sad part of the story is that neither Denyakin nor Chapman had to die. Other officers had identified that Rankin wasn’t cut out to be a cop. For Christ’s sake, his lieutenant warned the upper management of the department that Rankin was going to get someone hurt—yet they did nothing, and two people are dead.
This has to stop.
 The Virginia State Police, who investigated the shooting, recommended that Rankin be criminally charged with Voluntary Manslaughter.
 Commonly called “suspended with pay.”