Norfolk clears policeman who shot another officer
By HARRY MINIUM AND MATTHEW ROY, The Virginian-Pilot
© October 11, 2006
Last updated: 12:56 AM
NORFOLK - Police Officer Gordon Barry has been cleared of wrongdoing in the May 21 shooting death of Officer Seneca Darden and will not be disciplined, city officials said Tuesday.
After briefing the City Council on the decision in a closed session, police Chief Bruce P. Marquis and City Manager Regina V.K. Williams emerged to say that an investigation found that Gordon didn't violate any police policies, procedures or rules.
"People can always second-guess," Williams said. "I'm sure Barry is doing that himself. But that's not the basis upon which we make decisions about whether someone is disciplined. There has to be cause for discipline, and we did not find any."
The shooting has resulted in an emotional public debate in part because of race - Barry is white and Darden was black.
Williams and Marquis, who are both black, emphasized that, given the public pressure, the best way to avoid criticism would have been to discipline Barry.
"The easy approach would have been to find him guilty of something," Williams said. "You want to find a way for people to feel there was some kind of justice. But we get paid to sort out what we believe the facts to be and to make those tough calls. "
Barry, a K-9 officer, shot Darden to death in Young Terrace during a confrontation in which the police tried to control a group of people angered by a shooting earlier that evening.
A State Police investigation, some details of which were released by the commonwealth's attorney, gave the following account of the shooting:
Darden had been working on a plainclothes detail in Ghent. When he arrived, he pulled his gun and ordered a man to the ground. Barry did not recognize Darden as a police officer and ordered him to drop his gun.
Darden did not respond, so Barry released his dog and commanded him to bring Darden down. Instead, the dog attacked another man.
Again, Barry ordered Darden to drop his gun and he did not respond. Fearing for the safety of other officers, he fired six times, killing Darden.
Mayor Paul Fraim said most council members took the news from Williams and Marquis somberly.
"I'm satisfied they've done their job the way they're supposed to," he said.
"I don't think the community is going to think this was the right thing to do, to keep this man on," said Vice Mayor Paul R. Riddick, who called for Marquis to be fired several months ago over statements he made about Darden. " This whole thing is awful. I find the entire thing difficult to swallow."
Marquis said the Firearms Review Board, consisting of three assistant chiefs, a range master and the commander of internal affairs, brought in several witnesses from the shooting during its investigation, which ended in September.
After receiving the board's decision, Williams met with the board for four hours, she said, "so they could recap to me what they had looked at, their thinking, in general why they came to this conclusion."
Barry's attorney, Peter Decker III, said that since the shooting Barry has remained on administrative duty, meaning he has not been patrolling city streets.
While on administrative duty, Barry has not been able to work security side jobs that officers typically use to supplement their salaries, Decker said. He looks forward to resuming regular duties, he said.
However, the board recommended that Barry remain on administrative duty until Marquis determines he is ready.
"I don't believe he's ready to go back on the street now, nor will he be ready anytime soon," Marquis said.
Michael McKenna, the president of the local International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said he welcomed the news.
"I'm glad to see him cleared," he said. "I didn't think he did anything wrong. It was a terrible accident."
The decision came to light on the day Darden and other fallen officers were honored in a Washington, D.C., wreath-laying ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Portsmouth attorney Kenneth R. Melvin, who represents Darden's widow, Brindle Darden, declined to comment on Barry. However, he said negotiations are under way about a financial settlement of a lawsuit he has discussed filing against the city.
Later this week, State Secretary of Public Safety John W. Marshall is scheduled to release his summary of an investigation into the shooting by the State Police. Based on that report, which Marshall has refused to make public, Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Doyle elected not to file criminal charges against Barry.