GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. (WRIC)– The Virginia NAACP is launching a campaign to call attention to law enforcement accountability and the necessity for independent investigations into officer-involved shootings. The civil rights organization highlighted the shooting death of 18-year-old Xzavier Hill in January, as one example.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney failed to prosecute the state troopers involved in the shooting, and the Virginia NAACP said it’s demanding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Herring to take further action.
On Jan. 9, state troopers tried to initiate a traffic stop on Interstate-64. State troopers pulled over 18-year-old Xzavier Hill around 4 a.m. According to Virginia State Police, Hill accelerated to a high rate of speed and ultimately slid down an embankment in Goochland County. State police said Hill flashed a gun and they shot him.
Hill’s death sparked outrage and there were multiple protests and calls to release the dashcam footage of the incident to the public. The criminal investigative findings were given to the Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney for a final review and adjudication. In February, The Commonwealth’s Attorney released the dashcam footage and the grand jury decision. The video was posted online for the public to see.
The grand jury ruled that ‘the actions of the officers were justified in the exercise of deadly force and criminal charges against the two Virginia State Police Troopers involved are not warranted.”
Robert Barnette, the President of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, said the organization has met with the Governor several times since March to discuss police brutality and traffic stops.
“We are demanding that the Governor acts on this particular issue because so many people have lost their lives to tragic incidents with police shootings,” said Barnette.
The civil rights organization said it’s asking for three actions from Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring — First, that that the two elected officials exercise their authority, stated in the Code of Virginia 2.2-511, to request Attorney General Herring to investigate and prosecute law enforcement involved shootings in the Circuit Courts of the Commonwealth.
In addition, the NAACP wants the Governor to implement policies of the Virginia Compensation Board and Criminal Justice Services Board that provide financial incentives for local law enforcement agencies to adopt policing standards that prioritize training, certification, and accountability. The group wants this to build upon the model of standards and transparency under development with the State Police.
Last, they’re requesting the Governor to leverage the Virginia Compensation Board and Criminal Justice Services board to have local law enforcement officers prioritize the reexamination of its policing standards so that it can become a model of accountability, transparency, and culturally responsive policing practices for other law enforcement agencies in the Commonwealth.
LaToya Benton, Xzavier Hill’s mother, told 8News she has been battling a tumor even before her son was killed by Virginia State Police earlier this year. Benton said she has been relentlessly reaching out to Attorney General Mark Herring’s Office, even showing up there in person along with her sister and Xzavier’s aunt, Latonya Snow.
“You either fight for your kids or you grieve. You don’t have the option to do both,” Benton said.
According to Benton, the family has not been asked specifically what they need and feels ignored.
“A press conference doesn’t excite me,” Benton said. “I’ve done it the right way. I’ve sent letters. I’ve sent emails.”
“We need to let anybody know now that is running for office, that they shouldn’t feel safe and comfortable running for office without reaching out to these families,” said Japharii Jones, the founder of Black Lives Matter 757, who protested in Goochland County after Hill was killed. “They can’t say that they don’t have contact. These mothers cry every single night.”
However, Benton said she agreed with the Virginia NAACP in the need for policy change.
“I don’t want a holiday. I don’t want a street. I don’t want any plaque. My son doesn’t need a statue. We need policy change,” Benton said.
Barnette called the demands a ‘step in the right direction.’
“It will start to build trust and accountability in our black and brown communities,” she said. “We need to trust law enforcement when they come into our communities to make sure that they are doing effective policing.”
The governor’s office said it will continue working with the NAACP.
“Governor Northam is proud to have worked hand-in-hand with the NAACP and other partners to pass sweeping criminal justice reform over the past two years, and we look forward to continuing this work.”Alena Yarmosky, Senior Communications Advisor
Office of Governor Ralph Northam
The Attorney General’s office also said its work, collaborating with the NAACP is ongoing.
“Attorney General Herring has long believed that investigations of officer-involved shootings should be handled by independent, unaffiliated agencies to maximize the public’s confidence in the objectivity of an investigation and its outcome. Last spring, Attorney General Herring announced that he and the Virginia NAACP were launching a collaborative effort to identify and help implement reforms to the way the Commonwealth of Virginia and its law enforcement agencies handle investigations into officer-involved shooting deaths, and that work remains ongoing.”Charlotte P.L. Gomer
Director of Communications
Office of the Attorney General