Commonwealth’s attorney: Officers used justified force in 2016 shooting death of mentally ill Norfolk man

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Willie Demetrius James, 43, was shot and killed by Norfolk Police Department officers in his family's home located on the 400 block of Chapel Street on June 2, 2016. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney's Office)
Willie Demetrius James, 43, was shot and killed by Norfolk Police Department officers in his family’s home located on the 400 block of Chapel Street on June 2, 2016. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office)

NORFOLK — Two police officers who shot and killed a mentally ill man in June of last year used justified force, according to the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney.

Willie Demetrius James, 43, died on June 2, 2016 after he was shot nine times by Norfolk Police Department officers V.C. Dozier and C.A. Wacker in his family’s home, located in the 400 block of Chapel Street.

Police were initially in the area responding to a stolen car when a witness told them James had punched several of his family members inside the home. Family later told police that James got angry because he thought the officers were in the area after his family called them on him, according to a letter penned by Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory Underwood.

The officers went into the house around 6:45 p.m. and tried to coax James from upstairs. Dozier and Wacker said that James was making angry sounds and noises before he reached into his waistband and pulled out a 7.5-inch kitchen knife and ran down the stairs toward them.

The kitchen knife that Willie Demetrius James swung at Norfolk Police Department officers the night he was fatally shot in his family's home. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney's office)
The kitchen knife that Willie Demetrius James swung at Norfolk Police Department officers the night he was fatally shot in his family’s home. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office)

Body camera footage taken by Wacker showed James swinging the knife at Dozier, coming close to his head. Both officers began firing their guns, shooting the weapons 13 times collectively, Underwood wrote.

Dozier said he began firing because of how close the knife came to his head, while Wacker said he thought his partner had been stabbed by James.

Although witnesses to the shooting told police that James didn’t have a knife, the body camera footage shows that he did. Dozier and Wacker said the witnesses had moved to the back of the home and the scene was blocked from their view.

James had a “long documented history of mental illness” prior to his death, Underwood wrote, which included spending several years in Virginia mental hospitals and being found “not guilty by reason of insanity” on July 2, 2010 for three counts of assault on a police officer and obstruction of justice.

James spent four years in Central State Hospital and Eastern State hospital before being put on a “conditional release plan” in 2014. Shortly after his release, James relapsed and spent time off and on in Eastern State Hospital, Underwood wrote.

Part of his mental illness included complaints of hearing voices or speaking in strange languages.

Mayfield can be reached at adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.