PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In an email between city officials, one leader claimed that the grand jury indictment of a police officer who was involved in a shooting was because Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales was “playing terrible politics,” according to documents obtained by 10 On Your Side.
The email was written by then-Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas to City Manager Dr. L Pettis Patton on Nov. 3 — two days after Portsmouth Police Officer Jeremy Durocher was indicted by a grand jury and charged with malicious wounding and use of a firearm.
The charges stem from an October 2017 incident in which Durocher allegedly shot Deontrace Ward while the 19-year-old fled from the scene of a burglary. Ward eventually pleaded guilty to several charges, including armed burglary, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Durocher was awarded a Medal of Valor in June 2018 for the actions he took in response to the burglary. In the award, former Police Chief Tonya Chapman wrote that the officer “took necessary steps to stop the threat … at great personal risk.”
After reading an article in the Virginian-Pilot that drew a connection between Durocher’s indictment and the Medal of Valor on Nov. 3, then-Councilman Ray Smith wrote an email to city leaders expressing concern.
In an email addressed to Patton, Psimas, Mayor John Rowe, and council members Bill Moody, Nathan Clark, Lisa Lucas-Burke, and Solomon Ashby, Smith wrote that he was “disheartened” to learn that an officer who’d been under investigation in connection to a shooting had also received recognition for it.
“Even knowing that his actions were questionable, he was still recognized by the Chief for bravery. Bravery for shooting someone in the back who was running away,” Smith wrote.
Although the email doesn’t name Durocher, 10 On Your Side has confirmed through several sources that he is the officer referred to throughout it.
Patton responded to everyone in the email chain hours later, writing that she’d spoken with the police chief, who said that Durocher was cleared during the course of the internal and state police investigations.
“The Award of Valor presented a few months ago at the annual Police Awards Ceremony was given to the Officer for capturing an armed burglar and possibly saving the lives of his fellow officers,” Patton wrote. “Just this week the Officer was indicted and has not been convicted of the said matter. As in charges brought against an individual, the Officer is innocent until proven guilty.”
An hour later, Psimas responded to Patton’s email — but she didn’t include any other city officials who’d originally been on the email chain, including Smith. The email was sent to Patton privately.
“Go have a vacation,” Psimas wrote to Patton. “Most of us know this is Morales playing terrible politics. Rowe, Moody, Clark and I made that clear to Chapman at Top Cop dinner tonight.”
10 On Your Side has reached out to Rowe, Moody, Clark, and Patton multiple times since Tuesday. The only person who responded to our inquiry was Moody, but he declined to comment on the alleged conversation between members of city council and Chapman about the indictment of Durocher.
10 On Your Side showed a copy of the email to Morales, who declined to comment, except to say:
“Our community doesn’t benefit from elected officials disparaging one another so I will refrain from addressing anyone in particular however I will take this opportunity to remind anyone who’s listening that the decision of our grand juries are made by Portsmouth citizens and they should never be trivialized or taken lightly. Politics play no role in grand jury’s duties and deliberations and indictments are a reflection of the will of the people and our citizens who participate in the administration of justice should be respected at all times especially by those who have elected to serve them ”
Psimas is no longer serving Portsmouth as Vice Mayor, but is a member of city council. 10 On Your Side has reached out to Psimas four times with no response.
Confidential sources confirm that members of city council did speak with Chapman in November about Durocher’s indictment, but declined to comment on the specifics of the conversation.