Special Report: Crime and Punishment


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — April 22, 2015, is a day the family of William Chapman will never forget.

It’s been a little more than three years since former Portsmouth Police officer Stephen Rankin shot the unarmed teen, but the pain is still raw for Chapman’s family.

Rankin was responding to a possible shoplifting call at the Walmart on Frederick Boulevard.

He confronted Chapman in the parking lot, and then some type of scuffle happened.

Rankin shot the 18-year-old, who died at the scene.

“Certain parts of the city, like Frederick Boulevard, we can’t drive down,” said Chapman’s cousin, Earl Lewis, who is also the family’s spokesperson.

Lewis said dates, like Chapman’s February birthday and the day Rankin was sentenced in October, still haunt the family.

“That hurt comes back all over again,” he said.

On the third anniversary of Chapman’s death, his family gathered in front of the Walmart and remembered others who were also killed by police.

RELATED: Appeals court upholds Rankin conviction

“To lose someone who’s 18 in the family, it’s a tragedy. It’s definitely a tragedy. It’s heart-wrenching when we even think about it,” Lewis said.

But what Lewis does think about is the outcome of the case.

A jury convicted Rankin of voluntary manslaughter.

He’s currently serving a two and a half year sentence in prison.

Out of 17 high-profile police involved deaths between July of 2014 and September 2016, only four cases ended with some type of conviction.

Chapman’s was one of them.

“Just to see something that had been happening all around the country, happen in our city was alarming. Since we lost a son in our community, it was heartbreaking,” said Portsmouth’s Commonwealth Attorney Stephanie Morales, who prosecuted the case.

Morales had only been in the position for three months when Chapman died.

She said she took on the case even though other prosecutors might not have because of its difficulty.

“I firmly believe the law does permit people to prosecute officers when they commit a crime. There are some people that believe differently. They really refuse to look at the facts differently than how prosecutors have looked at it for years and years and years. I am a different thinker. I think outside the box. I am willing to fight no matter how difficult it is,” she said.

Morales’ strategy seemed to work for her and the Chapmans, because they got some type of conviction despite other cases around the country acquitting or not charging officers.

Chapman’s shooting death was the second time Rankin had shot and killed someone while on duty.

He was never charged in the first instance.

“For whatever reason, the system worked for us this time. It’s a great feeling but it’s still a whole lot of work. That was one day. That was one person,” Lewis said.

“It was about what was trying to do the right thing for William, really trying to let our community know we are going to do our very best for them,” Morales said.

Both believe that it was also the community’s reaction by staying peaceful that helped get the outcome, unlike other cities around the country that erupted into violence following officer-involved deaths like Baltimore, Charlotte, and Ferguson, Missouri.

“This is our city. This is our city. If we tear up our city, what do we have?” Lewis asked.

Lewis believes things have been better for the city since the trial. He wants to go to Washington D.C. and change laws regarding gun violence and domestic violence.

He said Chapman’s family has also filed a lawsuit against Walmart, who he says never apologized for the incident. Lewis hopes they can get the shoplifting policies changed where employees stop customers inside the store.

Lewis also wants more response training for officers and a community center so kids, like Chapman, have a place to hang out.

“It’s up to the community to work together so there’s not another situation like this. I wish we could come together as a people and we did,” he said.

Morales also agreed that the community has changed.

“I will say that our community came together in the right way, no matter what side of the fence they were on. We did find peace. We just all moved on, and even if we’ve had incidents since then, our community knows what to do. They know to call this office and we will give them information without compromising the investigation or prosecution,” she said.

Getting to know these families in the community is the one of the meaningful aspects about Morales’ job.

Both don’t want something like this to happen again, but if it does, she says her office is there for those families.

“Letting Ms. Sally Chapman and Earl Lewis and the entire family know that I’m not here to just be a prosecutor but to help them get through this. The pain doesn’t just go away even after a conviction or a process is complete. It continues and I constantly think of their families and all the other families who have lost someone,” she said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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