Family says Charles Byers was backing away from Chesterfield Police officers when they shot, killed him

 Charles Byers Case
Posted at 3:18 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 17:42:13-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney will not prosecute the officers who shot and killed a mentally ill man who was carrying a hatchet last summer.

Charles Byers' parents, Peggy and Michael Byers, described the range of emotions they felt after they met with police and prosecutors Tuesday afternoon.

That's when they learned the full picture of what happened when their son was shot and killed by a Chesterfield police officer on July 8, 2023.

“It’s overwhelming, and it’s very sad to hear about the last day or two of his life," said Byers' mother Peggy Byers.

“I don’t know how to describe it. I certainly did not ever expect to be mourning the death of my son in an officer-involved shooting— a wonderful human being who sadly was mentally ill," said Byers' father Michael Byers.

In that meeting, they were told the news that Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Erin Barr would not pursue criminal charges against the two officers who responded that day.

“I think I’m not surprised. I’m a little bit disappointed that there isn’t some type of action," Mrs. Byers said. "I don’t think there was anything criminal in what they did, but I feel like things could’ve been handled differently and better to ensure a better outcome for Charlie’s healing as opposed to his killing.”

"We understand that the officers have right to protect themselves. They made a judgment that they were in danger and people on the scene were in danger. I don't think they gave enough consideration to Charlie," Mr. Byers said.

In a statement to CBS 6 Tuesday following the meeting, police said the information they received prior to the shooting was that neighbors reported to 911 that a man had tried breaking into their homes.

Officers said when they arrived they saw Byers with a hatchet. After giving him numerous commands to drop the hatchet, police used a taser.

When that did not work, an officer shot him multiple times - all within 45 seconds of arriving to the scene.

Police called Byers "unrelenting and threatening," but Byers' family attorney Paul Curley described a different version of events.

He said Byers did not pose a threat to the officers.

“During the entire episode, Charles never advanced on the police. He never held the hatchet up, wielded the hatchet. It was always in a down position and he was always going backward," Curley said.

Curley said he watched the body camera video and disputes Chesterfield police's initial statement that Byers was "advancing" at officers at the time of the shooting, leaving them "no choice but to shoot him."

"That is not true," Curley said.

Police told CBS 6 that they mixed up their sequence of events based on officer interviews while dealing with information early into the investigation.

They said Byers did advance toward the officers with the hatchet, but it was at a different point in the sequence of events.

"Bear in mind, the initial media release went out at 4:03 p.m. on July 8, roughly three hours after the incident occurred, in an attempt to get information to the public in a timely manner," Chesterfield Police spokesperson Liz Caroon said.

Curley estimated that Byers was 20 feet away from the officers when they shot him.

He said some bullets went into his back as Byers turned away from the officers during the shooting. He said an officer fired seven gunshots at Byers, and five of them hit him.

Curley claimed the officers did not use de-escalation techniques - and questioned their training.

“I respect the decision that the Commonwealth’s Attorney made to not prosecute the officers involved," Curley said. "That doesn’t in any way mean that what the officers did was right or that the training or protocol of Chesterfield Police is correct."

When asked whether the officers followed department policy in the incident, police said their internal investigation of that is still ongoing.

Police acknowledged that Byers was a "person in crisis" and said the shooting underscored the "weaknesses in our mental health system."

"This is an outcome no one wanted, and its impacts continue to be felt by our community, our officers and, most significantly, by the Byers family. Our hearts go out to the Byers family as they continue to mourn the loss of their loved one," the department said in a statement. "Incidents like this bring further attention to the weaknesses in our mental health system and highlight areas where legislative change and additional funding may be necessary to bridge the gaps. Our agency remains committed to being a partner in advocating for meaningful and effective changes that will better serve our community."

As CBS 6 has previously uncovered, Byers, who has schizoaffective disorder, was under a temporary detention order (TDO) at the time of his death.

A Richmond magistrate issued the TDO on July 6 after determining he was a danger to himself or others and was incapable or unwilling to care for himself.

He had been admitted to HCA's Chippenham Hospital's Tucker Pavilion, where his behavior was described in medical records as delusional, non-responsive, and agitated. Byers was supposed to be there receiving mental health care for up to 72 hours.

However, after just three hours, despite medical records showing his "dire need for mental health treatment," he was discharged and arrested by Richmond police for refusing to get on an elevator and allegedly kicking a nurse.

A federal investigation faulted the hospital for failing to protect Byers' patient rights. Investigators found the hospital failed to maintain a safe environment for Byers, failed to advocate for his continued treatment, and never told Richmond Police that Byers was under a TDO.

Byers was released back into the public by a Richmond magistrate just 36 hours before his encounter with Chesterfield Police.

As the family pursues a $35 million lawsuit against HCA Healthcare and Richmond police, alleging their negligence caused their son's death, they're looking for change across all systems.

“There's a rise in mental health issues, and things are getting dire," Mrs. Byers said. "There needs to be a change in the way that officers, mental health care workers, respond to people who are in obvious distress."

"I would want to say to Charlie, that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that everybody let you down. We were trying to do the best we could to help you and get you to be well again. And then failure upon failure upon failure.”

CBS 6 reached out to Commonwealth's Attorney Erin Barr who responded with the following statement:

“After a detailed review of the matter, I have concluded that the Chesterfield County Police Officers were legally justified in their use of force in the July 8, 2023 incident involving Charles Byers.   I appreciate the thorough and professional investigation completed by the Chesterfield County Police Department into this matter.  Our thoughts continue to be with the Byers family during this time.”

Barr declined to release her official letter of declination to CBS 6.

CBS 6 has requested to view the body camera footage of the incident. Police said they will arrange a viewing soon.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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