NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - Is the City of Norfolk hiding the truth about the death of a police recruit?
Video obtained by WAVY.com shows police recruit John Kohn taking quite a beating on December 9th during defensive tactics training. The Kohn family attorney thinks it contributed to his death, but the City has been secretive about releasing information.
Here's an example of how the City reacted to our Freedom of Information Act requests. WAVY.com asked the Norfolk City Attorney for Police Academy video. We got one DVD that did not have the incident in question. It wasn't until we realized the City had not given us what we asked for, that we asked again and received the important videos that show the pummeling Kohn got at the hands of an instructor.
When the Kohn family attorney saw the new video, he couldn't believe it. "It doesn't jibe with what I see on tape," said Attorney Jim Lewis.
Following the incident in December, instructor Leldon Sapp told investigators, "So initially right off the bat I hit him with the right hand to his caged helmet that he wears... he was struck in the face once. The subject's head popped back...then I hit him two or three more times before he started to do things."
Lewis said, "That is consistent with what's on the tape. I think two or three times is minimizing it a little bit."
In the video, Sapp hit Kohn at least five times. The angle of the camera prevents us from seeing Kohn, but it appears he is not fighting back.
Sapp then told investigators, "Investigator White and myself saw that the recruit was not responding very well. So we stopped the scenario."
That, we know, is not true after watching the video. They did not stop the scenario.
"They did not...if you watch the tape carefully he [Sapp] pauses, then sort of stands up over Mr. Kohn and reinitiates another four or five punches," said Lewis.
The video shows Sapp standing above Kohn and punching him with full force. Sapp is wearing a boxing glove, but Kohn is unable to fight back, which he is expected to do to re-take control of the situation.
Lewis said the discrepancy between Sapp's statement and the video truth is another troubling sign of Norfolk trying to paint a different picture of what actually happened, but why?
"That is a tough question to answer, and quite frankly begs the bigger question that I have and that is why does it take Andy Fox to get to the bottom of what happened to this fella," Lewis said.
When we first asked Norfolk for the training video, the City gave video of a collision Kohn had at the gym door with another recruit. Lewis said in no way did that collision lead to Kohn's death.
"They gave this story: a head-butt in the door way, and it took you to find out that that is simply not what happened, and that is astonishing to me," Lewis said.
We have repeatedly asked for an interview with Police Chief Bruce Marquis, but there is no comment because of what could be a pending legal matter.
In fairness to Norfolk Police, this type of defensive tactics training has gone on for years with no known deaths, and the video shows all recruits received the same treatment Kohn did.
Thousands have gone through the Academy without incident, which makes the City's apparent cover-up response to this case that much more troubling. Even Lewis doesn't think this was a case of hazing, but Norfolk has created suspicion in its response.
In addition, 10 On Your Side uncovered an e-mail from Senior Assistant Chief Sharon Chamberlin on December 22. In it, she asked a police captain where Sapp struck Kohn, and the captain responded, "in the head."
Even though that e-mail clearly shows the chief's command staff knew about the punches to Kohn's head, a full six days after that e-mail, City Manager Regina Williams issued another statement that never mentioned the punches, only the door collision. This suggests either Williams hid the whole truth or police didn't tell her about it.
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