Norfolk police officer shot and killed by another officer, sources say
By MATTHEW ROY AND MATTHEW JONES, The Virginian-Pilot
© May 22, 2006 | Last updated 11:47 PM May. 22
NORFOLK — In an unusual move, Virginia State Police have been called in to investigate a shooting in which a police officer fatally wounded a colleague Sunday night during a fast-moving and chaotic chain of events at a public housing complex.
Seneca Darden, 25, , who had been on the force for four years and was with the 3rd Precinct, died after being shot multiple times. He was married, had a 5-year-old daughter and lived in Portsmouth.
The department did not release the identity of the officer who shot Darden, but multiple sources identified him as Gordon Barry, a canine officer. Police said the officer was placed on administrative leave while the case is investigated.
Darden was the nephew of Shelton L. Darden, who retired last year after rising through the police ranks. He served as interim chief prior to the hiring of the current chief, Bruce P. Marquis.
Witnesses said that Seneca Darden was shot during a chaotic disturbance in the courtyard of Young Terrace, a public housing complex near Virginia Beach Boulevard. They said he had a weapon drawn and was in jeans and a T-shirt. He had been working a burglary detail in another part of the city before arriving at Young Terrace.
Darden was with several uniformed officers who were trying to control a crowd after a shooting that had occurred there earlier Sunday night. Many people were yelling as Darden was shot, witnesses said, and police were using pepper spray.
Marquis and police brass, somber and weary after being up all night, held a news conference at noon Monday.
Marquis gave this account:
Late Sunday, officers responded to the 500 block of Nicholson St. on a reported shooting. They found a man who had been shot, and he was taken to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he remained Monday.
Meanwhile, a suspect was located a short while later on Virginia Beach Boulevard and was taken into custody. Officers recovered two handguns from Milton Green, 50, and later charged him with malicious wounding and a weapons offense, said Officer Chris Amos, police spokesman.
Officers still at the Norfolk housing complex were told about a second gunshot victim inside a home in the 400 block of Nicholson St. The officers at that scene reported a “large crowd” in the courtyard there and requested back up.
Five uniformed officers responded. One of the officers saw a man in the crowd in a white T-shirt and blue jeans, holding a handgun. That person turned out to be Seneca Darden. An officer commanded him to drop the gun. The officer then fired at Darden, who was hit “multiple times.”
Darden was pronounced dead a short while later at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Amos said the other shooting victim at that address was eventually found and had superficial wounds.
Witnesses interviewed Monday described the scene much as the police.
It all started at about 11:20 p.m., when Rahmel Humbert was shot while riding a bicycle in the 500 block of Nicholson St. on the way to a store nearby, several residents said.
Humbert, 24, lives in Virginia Beach and often visits relatives in Young Terrace after his cooking job at the nearby Radisson, said his aunt, Linda Humbert.
She heard about the shooting from her daughter, who called Humbert at work. Humbert found them loading her nephew into an ambulance. She returned to her home in the 400 block of Nicholson St . People gathered outside, asking about her nephew.
There also were rumors the shooter was nearby, and the courtyard soon filled with dozens of people trading bits of information, according to Humbert and several other witnesses.
Marq Lyles, Humbert’s next-door neighbor, watched the rest unfold from his front porch. Chaos ensued, he said, with police yelling at people to get on the ground and using pepper spray.
Lyles, 18, said Darden was standing on the sidewalk leading to his apartment, wearing a white T-shirt and baggy blue jeans. His gun was drawn and he was ordering a man to the ground.
Two uniformed officers were with Darden, Lyles said – one facing Darden across Lyles’ front yard and one to Darden’s left. The officers had their guns drawn as well and were yelling at the same man.
Lyles said an officer with a police dog then approached Darden from behind and shot him multiple times. He pointed to indicate a distance, roughly 10 feet.
Lyles said the courtyard was well lit from lights on front porches and on the apartment walls overhead.
After the shooting, police were everywhere, Lyles said. Some tried to perform CPR on Darden while others sent out an “officer down” alert on their radios.
Humbert said she saw Darden before the shooting as well. As she walked along the courtyard’s sidewalk, heading to her car to visit her nephew in the hospital, she passed Darden and several uniformed officers going the other way.
As she rounded the corner, Humbert heard gunshots. She ducked behind a building and spoke by cell phone with her frightened teenage daughter, who was still in their apartment. By the time she made it back around, Darden was lying on his back on the sidewalk leading to her apartment, she said.
Darden’s body has been turned over to the medical examiner’s office.
At a news conference, his voice nearly breaking at times, Marquis expressed sympathy to Darden’s loved ones.
“I do … wish to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of Officer Seneca Darden,” he said. “I would ask that we all keep this family in our thoughts and prayers as they deal with Seneca’s tragic death.”
Answering questions from reporters, Marquis said Darden had been working in plain clothes on a burglary detail in another part of the city. Asked why he was in that area, Marquis said, “That’s something we’re looking at internally.”
Marquis said he had briefed Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Doyle and Cassandra M. Chandler, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Norfolk, on the shooting.
Marquis was asked if the officer who fired ever warned Darden to drop his weapon. “It is initially my understanding that he did that several times,” he said.
At the news conference, Doyle said he wi ll review the case after the state police investigation. In recent months, Doyle has found that several police shootings of suspects were justified. In one case still not resolved, he asked for a special prosecutor to handle the review.
“An officer has a duty to use deadly force in order to protect the officer’s life or the life of others from imminent harm,” Doyle said. Officers have to make an on-the-spot decision, he said.
“We’ll be looking at all the facts and circumstances of this case … and making a legal analysis of the officer’s actions,” he said.
Harry Twiford, the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said the incident was tragic. “It’s something that’s beyond words,” he said. “The members of the department are going to have to bind together and not let this divide the department.”
Darden’s death comes on the heels of a ceremony last week marking those killed in the line of duty on the force. The ceremony recalled the killing last fall of Officer Stanley C. Reaves, 33, of Chesapeake.
Reaves was shot as he checked on a suspicious person in Park Place. Four days later, police arrested Thomas Alexander Porter, 30, in White Plains, N.Y., at the home of an ex-girlfriend, and charged him with killing Reaves. Porter is awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, Rahmel Humbert, having been shot twice in the stomach, was in stable condition Monday at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, his aunt said .
When Linda Humbert was visiting her nephew at the hospital Sunday night, she ha d run into Darden’s family.
Having seen Darden stretched out on the pavement outside her front door, she knew the outcome. All she could do was hug them, she said.
“There’s nothing you can say.”
Monday morning, a Young Terrace maintenance man marked the spot where Darden was shot with a half dozen red roses.