RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An Internal Affairs Division (IAD) report from the Richmond Police Department (RPD) has revealed new insight on one of the Virginia State Police (VSP) troopers involved in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Xzavier Hill in Jan. 2021.
The IAD investigation in question was launched based on accusations of excessive force by three RPD officers, including Seth Layton. The incident happened on May 31, 2020, on E Marshall Street during a protest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota a few days prior. According to the IAD report and witness and officer interviews, two individuals — including a journalist — had foggers sprayed in and around their faces by the officers. The reporter noted that he was pushed to the ground by an officer, but the IAD report stated that “the collision was accidental.”
The three officers involved in the IAD investigation were later exonerated of the excessive force complaints, with other violations noted. However, then-Officer Layton resigned before the investigation was completed, documents obtained by OpenOversightVA showed.
According to the IAD report, Layton reported for a criminal interview as part of the investigation but declined to make a statement. Documents showed that he resigned from the department on Sept. 22, 2020, and joined VSP shortly thereafter.
A grand jury declined to proceed with charging Layton and one of the other officers involved, while the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges against the third officer, according to the IAD report. But Layton resigned and joined VSP before that determination could be made. He was cited by RPD, though no longer with the department, for a use of force violation, as well as a violation related to his use of a fogger.
“Why would you hire somebody with an ongoing investigation going on? I mean, something little could turn into something big overnight,” former VSP Captain Dr. Frank Whitehurst told 8News. “I see a big problem with that.”
Whitehurst worked with VSP for 30 years, including approximately four years with the Personnel Division’s Bureau of Administrative and Support Services in human resources.
“If people don’t follow all their leads out, they’re taking a big risk,” he said. “It’s kind of reckless hiring practices to me.”
Both Whitehurst and law enforcement consultant and former police chief Mike Jones noted that the IAD report included testimony from two other RPD officers, which stated they were not trained in the use of the equipment that was used, an error on the part of the department.
Less than four months after his resignation, Layton was involved in the deadly shooting of Hill. He and Trooper Benjamin Bone were ultimately found to be “justified in the exercise of deadly force and criminal charges against the two Virginia State Police Troopers involved are not warranted.”
8News reached out to VSP for information on RPD’s internal investigation against Trooper Layton, and whether the agency was aware of the accusations.
“State police does not comment on investigations other agencies may or may not have conducted,” a spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, the spokesperson added:
All applicants for employment with the state police are required to sign a release form so investigators may access personnel records from their employer, including internal affairs case files. Additionally, internal affairs units of employing agencies of current or former law enforcement officers are interviewed. A law enforcement officer with active internal affairs/use of force investigations would not be hired if there was evidence of gross negligence or misconduct, any indication the investigation would result in disciplinary action or criminal charges, or if inadequate information was available to determine the outcome of the case.
Those pertinent conversations took place with the Richmond Police Department during the background hiring process and Seth Layton was conditionally hired Sept. 23, 2020. Subsequently, Layton was exonerated of the allegation of excessive, non-lethal force.
Hill’s mother has pursued legal action against the officers involved in her son’s death, including a pending lawsuit in federal court.
The shooting happened in Jan. 2021 in Goochland County. Authorities said that Hill led troopers on a high-speed chase, ending in a ditch alongside I-64. Dash camera video showed the two troopers speaking to Hill. Authorities said that the teen refused to get out of the car, and claimed he was reaching for a gun before the troopers fired their service weapons.
“You would want to have everything, every piece of information you can,” Whitehurst said. “When you’re looking at the background and you’re thinking about you’re at the point where you’re going to recommend or not recommend somebody, you want all these details that we talked about and then some, so that you can make a decision based on the totality of the information gathered in the investigation.”