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Virginia officer who shot fleeing suspect in back indicted

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The white Virginia police officer who shot a fleeing suspect in the back last year was indicted by a grand jury Thursday on charges of aggravated malicious wounding and related gun charge, reports CBS affiliate WTKR. The Virginian-Pilot obtained body cam video showing the October 2017 police encounter in which rookie Portsmouth Officer Jeremy Durocher shot and wounded 18-year-old Deontrace Ward, who is black. Authorities described Ward as an armed burglary suspect.

If convicted, Durocher faces up to life in prison, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

Authorities say the shooting occurred as police responded to a burglary call in a residential neighborhood in the southeast Virginia city. Ward was seen on video running away as Durocher opened fire.

Durocher's attorney, Nicholas Renninger, said in April Ward was a clear danger because he was armed. In the video, Durocher can be heard yelling, "He has a gun!"

"He had it flying like, towards me," Durocher is heard saying after he opens fire.

But Ward told the newspaper in April he never pulled his gun. Police said they found a loaded handgun, but it was in Ward's pant leg.

"I was just pretty much trying to get away. Showing no aggression," Ward said. "I feel he shot for no reason."

Ward took a plea agreement in June and was sentenced to six years in prison on burglary charges.  

"The law does not afford police officers the luxury of shooting first and asking questions later. The evidence in this case will show that Officer Durocher had no legal authority whatsoever to shoot this young man in the back,"  S.W. Dawson, Ward's attorney, said in a statement to WTKR. "What's nearly worse, this officer's explanation of why he did what he did doesn't match up with the facts."

Lt. B.K. Hall, a Portsmouth police spokesman, wouldn't comment on Durocher's employment status to the paper on Thursday, calling it a personnel matter. In a statement released to WTKR, Portsmouth police chief Tonya Chapman said "although this decision directly impacts the members of the Portsmouth Police Department, we will allow the criminal justice system to run its course. We look forward to seeing justice from the citizens of Portsmouth for Deontrace Ward."

After the indictment was announced Thursday, Renninger said his client believes in the "integrity of the judicial system."

Dawson told the paper he plans to file suit in coming weeks against Durocher and possibly the city.