Chesterfield police officer acquitted of brandishing weapon while off-duty.
By Mark Bowes
Published: April 14, 2009
A Chesterfield County police officer was acquitted yesterday of brandishing his police-issue pistol during an off-duty confrontation last month with two men.
After a 3½-hour trial in Chesterfield General District Court, a judge found Officer Frank H. Darnold III not guilty and concluded that he had never unholstered his gun. He was returned to full duty yesterday after being on administrative leave with pay after his arrest.
Darnold, 25, who served in the Marines before joining the department in 2006, testified he was off-duty and in civilian clothes March 3 when a motorist began to tailgate him aggressively as he drove with his wife to a Target store, defense attorney Steven Benjamin said.
"This was the Tuesday after the big Sunday and Monday snow," Benjamin said.
Darnold stopped his vehicle, got out and told the driver behind him to stop tailgating. But in response, the driver and a passenger got out of their vehicle, Benjamin said Darnold testified.
Darnold then told both men to get back in their car, but they refused and the passenger started moving toward the officer. Both men began making belligerent comments and the passenger challenged the officer to a fight, Benjamin said.
At that point, Darnold raised the corner of his shirt to display his badge on his belt and his holstered pistol -- both of which he wears at all times, Benjamin said. The driver immediately got back in his car, but the passenger continued to move forward, Benjamin said Darnold testified.
Darnold then turned toward the passenger so the man could clearly see the officer's badge and gun. The passenger returned to the car when he saw the officer's gun, and the two men drove away, Benjamin said.
Both men testified that Darnold had his gun in his hand when he confronted them, but Darnold's wife testified the weapon was holstered, Benjamin said. Afterward, Darnold and the two men reported the incident to police emergency communications.
Under questioning by Benjamin, the passenger acknowledged that he had contacted a lawyer about filing a lawsuit against the police department and Chesterfield County and was told he could win $300,000 as a result. A court reporter hired by the man's lawyer was in the courtroom yesterday taking notes.
Benjamin also disclosed in court that the passenger had been convicted in federal court in 2003 of stealing a submachine gun and SWAT gear from the FBI in Chesterfield and was convicted in 2006 of carrying a concealed machine pistol in Richmond.