Testimony in court on Thursday from two Richmond police officers does not support the official account provided by the department about the shooting of a man on New Year’s Eve.
Orlando Carter Jr., 27, was shot by an officer after a vehicle pursuit through Richmond’s East End that ended in the parking lot of Oliver Crossing Apartments in the 1300 block of Coalter Street. The incident unfolded just after 5 p.m. on Dec. 31.
Carter’s attorney, Katherine Poindexter, said in court that Carter was shot three times in the back. Richmond police have declined to say how many times he was shot or in what part of his body.
On the night of the shooting, at the scene, Police Chief Gerald Smith said the sole occupant of the car that officers had been pursuing, later identified as Carter, “exited the vehicle with a weapon in hand” and then “attempted to flee, approaching the officers, and pointed the gun at an officer.”
In a subsequent news release, five days after the shooting, the department reiterated that Carter “exited the car with a firearm, attempted to flee and pointed a firearm at Officer Ja-Ontay Wilson,” who shot Carter.
Smith said in a statement Thursday evening: “RPD stands by its earlier statements. We believe it would be improper to provide additional statements until all evidence in this matter has been heard. As such, RPD does not comment on pending prosecutions.”
Testimony by two officers during a preliminary hearing on Thursday was in conflict with the previous accounts. Officer Wilson did not testify Thursday.
Neither officer Dominic Rivera nor officer Moses Railey — who were on the scene when the shooting occurred — testified to seeing Carter holding or pointing a weapon during the encounter. Both said a gun, which had a “distinct purple grip” and black slide, fell from Carter’s lap or from the vehicle.
“He didn’t hold the gun?” Poindexter, the attorney representing Carter, asked Rivera about her client.
“No. It fell out of his lap,” Rivera responded.
After several other questions, Poindexter asked Rivera: “Did Mr. Carter ever wield his gun and shoot it?”
“No,” Rivera said.
Railey, who was is a separate patrol car from Rivera, said he heard “metal hit the ground,” alerting him that a gun had fallen from Carter’s vehicle.
“I don’t remember him picking up the firearm,” Railey said.
Rivera and Railey said that after Wilson fired three shots, the purple and black gun was about 5 feet from where Carter fell and where the gun had initially fallen. The gun was recovered from the scene by officer Stephen Butler, who testified that he arrived on the scene after the shooting.
Rivera had been driving a patrol car, with Wilson in the passenger seat. They had joined in the pursuit of Carter’s gray sedan behind Railey and his partner, who had attempted to stop Carter around 20th Street and Fairmont Avenue after Carter “blew a stop sign.”
Railey said Carter’s vehicle caught their attention because it didn’t have its headlights on and it was getting dark. Rivera told the court it was daylight when the pursuit occurred.
“He was making a lot of furtive movements,” Railey said of Carter. He further described the movements as “reaching down below his seat.”
The pursuit covered less than a mile, and Railey estimated he topped out at speeds of 35 to 40 mph, never losing sight of Carter.
Railey said he stopped 20 feet behind Carter’s vehicle, which Railey said had come to rest in the parking lot. But Rivera said he drove around Railey’s patrol car and stopped next to Carter’s vehicle, which Rivera said was still moving.
Poindexter asked if Rivera hit Carter’s car, which she alleged is how Carter’s leg was broken, making it hard for him to flee as police described. Rivera said he wasn’t sure.
Both officers said Carter tried to run but fell just steps from the car.
“He was certainly not capable of running,” Poindexter told the court. Carter is currently in a wheelchair with a compound fracture to his leg and is still recovering from the gunshot wounds.
Neither officer testified to the specifics of the shooting other than to say there had been three shots. Investigators collected three cartridge casings from the scene.
Rivera said he was coming around the back of his vehicle when he heard the gunshots. He said Carter was facing away from him when Rivera turned the corner from behind his patrol car.
Railey said he wasn’t sure if Carter was upright when he was shot.
Both officers said they reviewed their own body-worn camera footage and others ahead of testifying Thursday. No footage was shown during the hearing, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch has not been allowed to view any.
Late Thursday night, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Hollomon said body-worn camera footage was not shown during the hearing “because it wasn’t necessary to establish probable cause for the two charges."
Carter was charged with possession of a firearm while being a convicted felon, felony eluding police and three driving violations, which Hollomon dropped at the start of Thursday’s hearing.
"To the extent any question arises at trial about whether the firearm was pointed at one of the officers, the body camera footage can be used to help shed light on that issue," he said.
However, the footage might not be shown during a criminal trial, if the case progresses to that stage.
“It’s iffy on the possession,” Poindexter argued unsuccessfully Thursday. “No one testified today that he had the gun in his hand.” She also tried to argue that Carter couldn’t elude police given his limited mobility, but Richmond General District Judge Mansi J. Shah found probable cause to certify the two felony charges to a grand jury. Carter has a felony conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute from 2018.
A Circuit Court grand jury will consider whether to issue indictments for the charges in April.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include attribution to a statement defense attorney Katherine Poindexter made in court about how many times her client was shot and in what part of his body. The update also adds that the police have declined to discuss those specifics.