UPDATE March 15, 2022: Virginia Beach City Council has decided not to pursue a publicly-funded memorial to DeShayla Harris — a 28-year-old killed by a stray bullet last year — at the Oceanfront.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A proposal to use taxpayer funds for a permanent memorial to a reality TV star killed at the Oceanfront last year is being met with pushback from a former police chief.
Former Virginia Beach Police Chief Jake Jacocks wrote to Virginia Beach City Council last week calling Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten’s proposal to honor DeShayla Harris “problematic” and said it “raises serious questions.”
Mainly, he objected to the fact that only Harris was being considered, when the city has hundreds of other victims of crimes who were innocent and have not been publicly remembered.
Wooten argues precedent in this case has been set, comparing the night Harris died to the Virginia Beach mass shooting on May 31, 2019.
On March 26, 2021, DeShayla Harris, 28, was shot and killed along 19th Street at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront by what police say was a stray bullet. It was a chaotic night in which 10 people in total were shot, two were killed and an officer was hit by a car.
The Norfolk native was once a star on the “Bad Girls Club” reality show and had a large social media following. Wooten said DeShayla was celebrating her new career as a cosmetologist when tragedy struck.
The current Virginia Beach Police chief said the homicide of DeShayla is one of two from 2021 they have yet to solve. DeShayla’s mother, Elisheba Harris, has been outspoken in her calls for justice as well as criticism of VBPD in their handling of the investigation saying she often feels “forgot about.”
Elisheba Harris says she wants a permanent memorial to help ease the pain.
“To provide some sense of permanency with a plaque,” Wooten said.
A resolution before City Council Tuesday, sponsored by Wooten, sets aside up to $10,000 to create a plaque, with input from the family, and install it on city property at 19th Street and Atlantic Avenue.
“Our positive approval here would be a message of healing,” Wooten said.
So far, no City Council member has come forward to co-sponsor the resolution, although Mayor Bobby Dyer has proposed honoring DeShayla through the naming of a Hampton Roads-wide youth violence task force.
In his letter, Jacocks who served as chief of VBPD from 2000-2010, said “there is no question that this untimely death was tragic, nor is there any question that the victim’s family is now facing a future that will forever be interrupted by deep feelings of loss and pain.”
However, he questioned why the resolution stopped at DeShayla.
“Between November 20, 2018 (the date Wooten was seated on City Council) and March 4, 2022, there were 39 homicide victims … in the City for whom there is no indication that they were involved In criminal conduct that precipitated their death,” Jacocks wrote. “Why is only the one victim referenced above singled out? Are the lives of the other 38 victims somehow less worthy of being remembered?”
Jacocks said it was impractical for the city to individually memorialize the victim of every homicide and fatal motor vehicle crash and suggested family and friends help organize annual walks or memorial scholarships to honor victims instead.
However, he said he supports the public funding of a memorial to the victims from the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
“I did not include the 12 victims of the Building 2 shooting,” Jacocks said. “The aftermath and healing from such a large-scale tragedy is, and should be treated differently, and I am aware that a memorial for those victims is appropriately in the process of being developed.”
However, Wooten does think there is a parallel between the two events.
“It is another mass shooting within the City of Virginia Beach. So the requests for these funds follows suit with previous mass shootings we have had where we are asking for funds to remember the victims or the victims families,” Wooten said.
However, following Jacock’s letter, Wooten said she is amending a second resolution she put forward for Tuesday night, having to do with a memorial for all gun violence victims.
“It will be a resolution to create a ‘gone too soon memorial,’” Wooten said.
Wooten said this way, all those who have lost a loved one to gun violence, a car crash, COVID-19, could honor their loved one. She envisions it starting with a website with the names listed and eventually move towards planting trees in the community for those who lost their lives.
Virginia Beach City Council meets Tuesday at City Hall at 6 p.m.
Editor’s note, March 28, 2022: Since the original reporting of this story, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate has said the information given during a meeting March 30, 2021 that nine people were shot and injured and two others were killed at the Oceanfront March 26 was not correct. WAVY confirmed with the chief that eight people were injured and two were killed.