Attorneys clash over what happened before officer killed man
NORFOLK, VA. >> Attorneys in Virginia clashed in court on Tuesday over whether a white police officer used excessive force when he shot and killed a mentally ill black man who was holding a knife.
During opening statements for the officer’s manslaughter trial, prosecutor Greg Underwood turned toward the jury holding a cardboard replica of the knife, pointing it downward at his side. He said David Latham made no advances toward Norfolk Officer Michael Edington.
“(Edington) told him to drop the knife four times,” Underwood said. “Less than five or six seconds after he said ‘Drop the knife!’ for the fourth time —boom, boom, boom.”
But lead defense attorney Jeffrey Swartz said that’s not the whole story. Swartz also held the cardboard replica before the jury and said Latham moved it around. Latham also threatened that he was going to hurt “somebody,” Swartz said.
And then crucially, Swartz said, Latham’s foot moved. Latham weighed 273 pounds and was standing above Edington, who was on the porch stairs of a house. The officer had only so much time to stop an attack, Swartz said.
“(Edington) believed (Latham) was going to do exactly what he said he was going to do,” Swartz said.
Edington and Latham came face-to-face after the officer responded to a call about a fight breaking out between Latham, 35, and family members over a bag of potato chips. Latham grabbed a foot-long butcher knife, prompting both his mother and brother to call 911 and flee.
Officers arrived to find Latham, who suffered from schizophrenia, in the doorway clutching the knife.
The trial begins amid vocal protests of fatal police shootings of black men in Oklahoma and North Carolina. It’s also one of several trials in recent years of officers who allegedly used excessive force on duty.