VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Beach Police Department has found that one of its sergeants was “justified” in the detainment of an innocent Black man at Lynnhaven Mall last month, a case that made national headlines.
In a briefing to City Council Tuesday afternoon, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate said that following a review of case law, the stop, detainment and handcuffing of Jamar Mackey on Dec. 19 on the suspicion he was a suspect in a larceny case was within police policy.
The video of Mackey being cuffed while he appeared to be eating in the Lynnhaven Mall food court with his family was posted on Facebook went viral. Social justice and civil rights advocates suspected the “traumatizing incident” could be racially motivated.
Neudigate acknowledged “there is a history of bias-based policing,” but said he believed the incident at the Lynnhaven Mall would have ended the same if there were two white suspects.
According to Neudigate, on Dec. 18, a female victim had their purse stolen. He did not elaborate as to where the theft occurred.
Inside the purse were credit cards and a permanent residence card, also known as a “green card,” that the next day police determined where being used at the mall, by a suspect driving a stolen vehicle.
A friend of the victim gave officers a very specific description of a person who was accused of stealing a purse and used stolen credit cards, according to Neudigate. The person they were looking for had dreadlocks, wore all black and was with a child.
Neudigate said both Mackey and Markee Smith — the man ultimately arrested and charged in connection with the crimes — have the same ethnicity, are around the same age, have similar builds, a similar hairstyle and were both in the food court around the same time with a child wearing a “red top.”
Neudigate showed surveillance pictures of Mackey and Smith .
“The courts have ruled that officers can handcuff for flight risk, public safety and officer safety,” Neudigate said. “In this incident we had theft of car, theft of credit cards, theft of a green card, continued use of stolen credit cards. And the sergeant indicated in his experience that the individuals involved in so much criminal activity would flee and he didn’t want to create a situation in the mall during a crowded holiday.”
He cited the 4th Amendment, which allows the “Terry stop.” It allows police to stop anyone suspected of committing a crime.
Once outside the mall, the sergeant — who Neudigate identified as Sgt. Coffrin — took the handcuffs off Mackey, acknowledging they had the wrong person. Mackey was in handcuffs a total of 4 minutes and 11 seconds the chief said.
“No one every wants to have a situation of mistaken identity,” Neudigate said. “An apology to Mr. Mackey is warranted in this incident. But when one assesses the totality of circumstances, the stop the detention and the handcuffing were all reasonable in accordance with the existing framework of law which we are bound to assess such incidents.”
While the police investigation determined the detainment of Mackey was within police policy, Neudigate confirmed the involved sergeant and assisting officer’s lack of a mask was out of compliance.
The chief said they will “receive corrective action.”
Mackey tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 24, just days after the incident.
In an interview with 10 On Your Side, Mackey’s fiancée, Shantel Covil, said she believes the detainment of Mackey led to him getting the virus.
Coffrin was tested for the virus after learning this, and the results were negative, Neudigate told the council.
The chief is requesting the Investigative Review Panel take another look at the department’s findings regarding the incident while also renewing his request for an expanded body camera program. Currently they are not available for sergeants and no video exists of Coffrin approaching Mackey.
Plans are further being made for a review of current VBPD polices and training to see “if other departments are doing it better than we are.”
Neudigate plans to order a round of implicit bias training for all officers to take. The last time the training of that type had occurred was five years ago.
Neudigate has previously issued an apology to Mackey for the detainment, but still hasn’t met with Mackey personally.
He said calls to Mackey’s attorney have gone unanswered.
“I welcome the opportunity to apologize in person. If I had a way and a phone number I would call him directly … please come sit down with the police chief. Let me render an appropriate in person apology for this incident. The offer stands,” Neudigate said.
Mackey had previously told 10 On Your Side the incident was “embarrassing” and that his family has suffered trauma.
His attorney, Del. Don Scott (D-Portsmouth), confirmed the department’s outreach but said until they admit actual wrongdoing there isn’t a need to meet.
“That’s not an apology. If apologize to my wife like that, ‘baby I did nothing wrong, but I apologize’ it doesn’t make any sense,” Scott said. “They are supposed to be trained to de-escalate and what they did was escalate. He is sitting down with his family, and they approached him.”
Scott said his client does not want officers fired, just better training.
The Virginia Beach Organization of Police Supervisors released a statement in support of Sgt. Coffrin’s actions. The statement reads that Coffrin would like to meet with Mackey to discuss the incident.
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