Norfolk, Virginia police officer Michael Edington, Jr. responded to a disturbance call on June 6, 2014. It was just another shift on a regular day for the young officer, but this call would be life-changing.
For the past several months, a big man named David Latham had not been taking his prescribed medication. David was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and required shots and oral medications to keep his condition under control. Unfortunately, when he didn’t receive or take his medication, David would become aggressive and argumentative and would have visual and auditory hallucinations.
That evening, David’s aggressiveness was triggered by an argument with his four-year-old niece about a bag of potato chips. The dispute led to David running into the kitchen, grabbing a large butcher knife, and threatening to stab his brother, Anthony.
More family members became involved in the chaos. They yelled for the 5’ 11”, 275 pound David to drop the knife, but his madness only escalated as he chased them around the house attempting to stab them.
At one point, David’s sister grabbed her five-month-old son and ran up the stairs. According to Anthony, his brother “snapped,” saying, “He was trying to get at me with the knife.”
Family members called 911 several times before police arrived. The last time, David’s mother called to let dispatchers know that her son suffered from mental illness.
When police arrived, Officer Edington and two other officers heard yelling coming from the house. Anthony was standing on the front porch looking into the house, trying to see what David was doing.
By this time, most of the family had run upstairs and hid in various rooms. However, David’s mother was hiding in the laundry room on the main level. As the officers approached the house, Anthony walked down the steps toward the officers as he yelled back at his brother, continuing his plea for David to drop the knife. David stood in the door, agitated and refusing to let go of the knife.
The officers screamed for David to drop the knife, but the outcome was the same – he refused.
Inside the house, David’s sister emerged from her hiding spot and approached him from behind. According to Officer Edington, she stood only a few steps behind David – well within fatal striking distance. It would’ve been nearly impossible for her to react quickly enough had her brother turned to attack her.
Seeing the risk, Officer Edington slowly walked up the porch steps, to within feet of the menacing David, who continued to scream obscenities and swear he wouldn’t drop the knife. He moved the knife around and rocked back and forth, postured to strike at any time.
The standoff continued until David’s proximity, posture, and aggressive response forced Officer Edington to shoot. David was rushed to a local hospital but pronounced dead a short time later.
Despite doing his sworn duty to protect the Latham family, his fellow officers, and himself, a local prosecutor – who was previously charged with DUI and related offenses – sought and obtained an indictment for voluntary manslaughter against Michael.
Yet another American police officer, rushing to a scene to protect lives and making a tragic but necessary use of force decision, now stands indicted for a crime. He faces a decade in prison as well as emotional and financial devastation.
We at the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund have seen it over and over again – an officer does what his training and judgment lead him to, is subjected to felony charges by an over-eager or politically-driven prosecutor, is later found innocent, but their life is permanently scarred. For those who are able to return to their job in law enforcement, their lives are still riddled with financial woes and mental anguish, second guessing every split-second decision they must make while wearing the badge.
It is obvious to us that Michael Edington, Jr., had no other options from which to choose. He did his duty, and LELDF stands by him and his family as their suffering continues through this ordeal.
UPDATE — October 2016: Michael, his very able legal team, and the LELDF are celebrating a fully justified, hard fought NOT GUILTY verdict returned by a Norfolk jury who listened to and earnestly deliberated on all of the admissible evidence in this case. In a fatal encounter occurring two years ago, a young man who suffered serious mental illness lost his life and a youthful police officer’s life was forever changed. We at LELDF lament both and share the pain of two families. As police across the country grow their understanding and change their approaches to people in mental health crises, there’s little doubt that more police officers will find themselves in incredibly dangerous encounters with citizens who are ready and immediately to inflict serious bodily harm. And while we truly hope each and every one is resolved favorably, we know more officers like Michael will be placed in jeopardy after making difficult but justifiable decisions to use deadly force.
Meanwhile, the LELDF stands proudly with Michael and his family, as we have throughout this ordeal.