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Richmond officers who shot at ax-wielding man were in field training

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 18:40:51-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Both of the officers who fired their guns during a confrontation with a man in downtown Richmond had recently joined the Richmond Police Department and were undergoing field training.

Nicholas Pechstein, 28,  and Joshua Sanborn, 24, were members of the 114th basic recruit class that graduated in June 2017. They were sworn in at a ceremony that took place at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

This recruit class received more training than usual, with an extra week added to the traditional 30-week training schedule to accommodate an expanded curriculum that included community engagement experiences in public housing communities, city schools and homeless shelters.

Both Pechstein and Sanborn were in the midst of completing eight weeks of field training at the time of Tuesday’s fatal shooting. This type of training pairs a rookie with a more experienced officer.

The officer that was injured by friendly fire was John Rotondi, 43, a patrol officer with 12 years of service.

Scene at 3rd Street after a man was shot during a confrontation.

Chief Alfred Durham said that from all the information he has gathered so far, he believes the two officers behaved with the utmost professionalism and courage and exercised restraint before they were forced to shoot at the suspect.

“I am grateful that Officer Rotondi was not seriously wounded,” Chief Durham said. “He is a fine officer – one we rely on to train our newer officers so they learn the proper way to do the job.”

The man Richmond officers shot and killed Tuesday morning was identified as Alexander J. Schoessel, 23, of Chester. Schoessel was wearing a kilt and carrying a small ax when he charged at officers near 3rd and Main Streets in downtown Richmond, police said.

According to police, multiple calls were made over a 30-minute period, reporting a “threatening” man carrying weapons. Police tried to de-escalate the situation and said Schoessel did not drop his weapons.

After a Taser proved ineffective, officers fired their weapons at Schoessel. Multiple witnesses reported that Schoessel charged at officers after the Taser was deployed.

He was officially pronounced dead at the hospital.

The Richmond Police Force Investigation Team (FIT) collected evidence and interviewed eyewitnesses to the shooting. They will also analyze video recorded from the officer’s body cameras.

The FIT report will be given to Chief Durham for review and then submitted to the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

“The videos will be released once the C.A.’s Office has made its determination,” a Richmond Police spokesperson said.

Alex Schoessel. Family shared image.

Who was Alex Schoessel?

“I know that my whole family is wishing that we all would have reached out to him more, if only we had one more conversation, no matter how hard,” Schloessel sister posted on Facebook Wednesday morning. “We don’t get a last conversation with Alex, that time has passed.”

Schoessel’s father said he and his family were having a tough time processing the loss. He added this was not the son they raised and that the family was extremely heartbroken and still in shock.

Several people who saw Schoessel walk from Belle Isle to 3rd and Main Street Tuesday morning called police reporting that Schloessel was acting in a threatening manner.

Meagan Kreiner, who encountered Schoessel on Belle Isle at about 9:12 a.m. — 45 minutes before police shot him — said he appeared to be acting fairly normal, despite his look — shirtless, wearing a kilt, and carrying a blade.

“As I was walking on the trail, there was a dude walking toward me in full Scottish garb. He had long flowing hair and a beard. He was quite handsome,” Kreiner said. “[I thought] This is weird even for Richmond.”

As Schoessel approached, Kreiner said she saw him put away his knife or blade.

“I laughed it off. There was nothing in his body posture, even the knife, that seemed intimidating,” she said. “I looked him in the eye and said good morning. He replied, “nice tats’ [referring to her tattoos].”

Kreiner said she was surprised to find out later that Schoessel had threatened other people and police officers.

“If there was something like a mental illness or drugs involved, I guess that would absolutely be a possibility,” she said.

Police have not yet released information about Schoessel’s state of mind at the time of his encounter with officers.

According to Richmond's online court records, Schoessel has a record in 2015 with charges that range from being Drunk in Public, Obstruction of Justice, Trespassing, and Unauthorized possession of drug paraphernalia.