CBS 6 viewed the video showing Chesterfield Police shoot, kill Charles Byers. Here's what we saw.

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Posted at 10:03 PM, Apr 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-10 22:08:44-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- For the first time, CBS 6 viewed body camera video and the 911 call revealing what happened leading up to the moment when a Chesterfield police officer shot and killed Charles Byers.

Byers was a 34-year-old man who lived with a severe mental illness and was under an active court order to receive psychiatric treatment at the time of his death.

Reporter Tyler Layne and CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone spent two and half hours at Chesterfield Police Headquarters reviewing the evidence in a conference room with County Attorney Julie Seyfarth, police training instructors Alex Johnson and Brian Dewar, police internal affairs head Michael Breeden, and police public information officer Liz Caroon.

Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Erin Barr determined the officers who used force against Byers were justified in their actions.

After reviewing the evidence, Stone said the case did not appear to be black and white but that he understood Barr's decision.

"I'll admit this is not a textbook self-defense case for a civilian, but police officers are treated a little differently," Stone said. "A prosecutor is going to be taking into consideration the duty to protect the public and the duty to protect themselves."

Here's what we heard in the 911 call and dispatch radio traffic:

On the afternoon of July 8, 2023, a neighbor called 911 to report that a man, who later turned out to be Byers, tried breaking into her home on Wycliff Court and damaged a window.

Byers, who lived less than a mile away, told the woman that he thought her home was his family's house.

The woman also said that Byers asked her for water and was "aimlessly" walking around. She was not sure if he had weapons.

The neighbor then reported that Byers knocked on another person's door and tried opening it and then went into a third person's garage.

A dispatcher relayed information about an attempted breaking and entering and vandalism to the responding officers.

Here's what we saw in the body camera videos:

Police showed us two videos that were worn by two responding officers. Both clips were relatively short, and the entire interaction lasted about 45 seconds.

When the first officer arrived, Byers was seen standing in a yard holding a hatchet at his side. A man, whose garage Byers apparently took the hatchet from, was seen actively mowing the lawn close to where Byers was standing.

The officer immediately drew her gun and ordered Byers to drop his weapon.

A few seconds later, a second officer could be seen arriving at the scene. He got out of the car closer to where Byers was standing and immediately drew his gun too.

When the second officer arrived, Byers could be seen walking from the yard into the street, passing an officer in doing so.

While Byers did not walk directly toward either officer, he closed the distance on them while walking into the road. That moment, according to police and Seyfarth, was the closest Byers ever was to the officers. They estimated between four and six feet.

When Byers was in the street, he was seen backing away from the officers the entire time while facing them.

At one point, Byers told officers that they had a "big a** gun."

Byers kept the hatchet mostly by his side throughout the exchange and did not appear to raise it above his waist.

"It's not like a firearm where you can shoot someone from maybe a couple hundred feet away. The further the person gets with the hatchet, the less reasonable the use of force might be," Stone said.

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CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone

Officers continued walking toward Byers as he backed away. Byers continued to not comply with their orders to drop the weapon.

"I do understand the police officer feeling threatened, the threat of serious bodily injury under the circumstances," Stone said. "They did make many, many, many commands to drop the weapon. They pointed a gun right at him. He acknowledged that they had a firearm pointed right at him, so it wasn't a situation where he didn't understand and yet continued to hold the hatchet."

Around 30 seconds in, the first officer switched to a taser after saying she would "take the less lethal."

She deployed the taser, but for reasons unknown, it did not work on Byers. Seyfarth said the taser did hit his body but was not effective.

About nine seconds later, as Byers still backed away and turned his head sideways, a second officer shot at him five times.

Byers turned around and started running away from them, and the officer shot him two more times in the back. Seyfarth said five out of the total seven gunshots struck Byers.

Byers then dropped to the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

"Generally, when you're backing away, you're creating less of a threat, but he was in a residential neighborhood and the police have a duty to protect the public," Stone said.

The video did not show any neighbors in the immediate direction Byers was backing up to, but training instructors Johnson and Dewar said it's possible that other neighbors could have been in the surrounding area at the time.

They said there were neighbors gathered outside during the incident, but those neighbors were behind the police and in the opposite direction of where Byers was walking.

Johnson said, according to their training, the officers exhausted all other reasonable de-escalation tactics before shooting.

Considering the totality of the circumstances, including the ignored commands to drop the hatchet, the possibility of other neighbors around, and Byers' posture during the incident, Stone said it made sense to him why the officers were not charged.

However, Stone also said he could see how a different prosecutor could have decided to pursue charges.

"I think it could have turned out differently," Stone said. "A prosecutor could exercise their discretion to charge in a case like this, and then leave it up to a jury to decide. But a prosecutor does have to exercise discretion and do what they think is best for the community."

CBS 6 reached out to Commonwealth's Attorney Erin Barr to request an interview about her decision and whether she considered sending the case to a grand jury. Barr acknowledged CBS 6's inquiry and said she would respond soon.

County Attorney Julie Seyfarth pointed to a 2020 state law that sets standards for the proper use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer. One of the standards states an officer shall not use deadly force unless, if feasible, the officer "has provided a warning to the subject of the deadly force that he will use deadly force."

The officers did not give a verbal warning to Byers that they would use deadly force in this incident, but Stone said the pointing of a gun toward Byers could be interpreted as a visual warning.

Seyfarth acknowledged that the officers could have given Byers a warning that they would use deadly force, but she did not believe it would have changed the outcome.

Chesterfield Police's first narrative about the shooting, released in a press release a few hours after the incident, said Byers "continued to advance on the officers, leaving them no choice but to shoot him." However, Byers did not advance on the officers when he was shot.

Byers' parents Michael and Peggy Byers have not watched the video themselves, but they did meet with police and Erin Barr last week where they were explained the details of the case.

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Peggy and Michael Byers

“Taking another human being’s life is always a very difficult decision, and I would have hoped that in that situation, the officers would have used a little more discretion, a little more patience, try to de-escalate things," Michael Byers told CBS 6.

The Byers said they want the body camera video to be released publicly so people can form their own opinions about what happened and possibly inspire change in how future incidents are handled.

“I think it's so good to have other eyes outside of the police department, outside of the Commonwealth's Attorney's office, to look and see, because there is more than one opinion, and people do see things differently," Peggy Byers said.

The family said they hoped the video could be used for training purposes.

“I think it's important that anybody who works in law enforcement or healthcare or anything like that has an opportunity to see what a mental health crisis looks like and learn how best to react and respond to people in that crisis," Peggy said. "It could be someone who's very calm but who doesn't seem to have an understanding of the dire or danger of a situation or just behaving outside of their normal behavior."

As CBS 6 has previously reported, Byers had schizoaffective disorder and was placed under a temporary detention order on July 6.

A Richmond magistrate determined Byers was a danger to himself or others and lacked the capacity to care for himself.

He was involuntarily admitted to HCA's Chippenham Hospital where he was to receive psychiatric care for up to 72 hours. However, Byers was only there for three hours before being discharged and removed by Richmond Police for refusing to get on an elevator and allegedly kicking a nurse.

As CBS 6 reported – Richmond Police implemented new policy changes after saying if they had known he was under a TDO, they may not have removed him.

A state investigation cited the hospital with 17 violations of regulations in Byers' admission and discharge. And a federal investigation faulted the hospital for failing to protect Byers' patient rights and failing to provide a safe environment.

Byers was released back into the community 36 hours before his encounter with Chesterfield Police. That whole time, his family thought he was still in the hospital receiving mental health treatment.

The family filed a $35 million lawsuit against HCA Healthcare and Richmond Police, alleging their negligence led to Byers' death.

“Charlie should have lived a long, natural life. He should be the one grieving our passings when we do eventually pass," Michael Byers said.

His parents want people to remember Byers, not just as a man with a hatchet or a man who was killed by police or a man with mental illness – but as someone with love, hopes, and dreams that they said should have never been cut short like this.

"I'm just asking for compassion. It's such a hard thing to have to deal with. It will never be the same. Our family will never be the same," Peggy Byers said.

Chesterfield Police said there were no policy violations in this shooting and that the officers acted appropriately.

They said they are not planning to publicly release the video.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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