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Prosecutor: Colonial Heights officer justified in wounding teen suspect who fired on police before killing himself
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Prosecutor: Colonial Heights officer justified in wounding teen suspect who fired on police before killing himself

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A Colonial Heights police officer who shot and wounded a Hopewell teenager suspected of breaking into vehicles after the teen opened fire on police used justifiable force during the April 2020 encounter, which ended with the suspect taking his own life, the city’s chief prosecutor has ruled. The officer’s shot did not kill him, according to the state medical examiner.

Officer Christopher Velasquez acted lawfully and justifiably used lethal force in defending himself and fellow officer Erik Reedy when he fired multiple shots, striking Zyon Romeir Wyche in the leg, after Wyche first opened fire on the officers and continued to shoot as he tried to flee apprehension, said Colonial Heights Commonwealth’s Attorney Gray Collins.

Velasquez was “acting appropriately when he was exchanging gunfire [with Wyche] — fearing for his life and Officer Reedy’s life, too,” said Collins, who noted that police body camera footage was decisive in sorting out what occurred.

After Wyche, 19, traded gunfire with Velasquez and tried to flee, moving behind a fence, a single gunshot could be heard on the audio portion of the body camera footage. That was the moment Wyche fatally shot himself in the head, said Collins, noting the medical examiner confirmed the teen died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Virginia State Police investigated the shooting at the behest of Colonial Heights police.

The incident unfolded about 2:30 a.m. on April 9, 2020, when officers responded to the 100 block of Clearfield Circle for a report of a person entering vehicles. Responding officers located an unoccupied vehicle. As officers canvassed the area, a person was spotted getting into the vehicle and attempting to leave.

Officer Reedy pulled up behind the vehicle, which was stopped, in the 100 block of Dunlop Farms Boulevard. When the officer got out of his patrol car to approach the suspect’s vehicle, “that’s when [Wyche] opened his door and jumped out. And as he gets out, he starts shooting,” Collins said.

“The video shows him shooting at Officer Reedy,” the prosecutor said. When Wyche “runs around the car, he’s just shooting randomly and behind himself at the officer.”

Reedy was forced to dive to the ground to avoid being hit.

Wyche then ran through an open field, “and as he’s running he’s shooting behind himself.” Velasquez then can be seen shooting at Wyche as he’s running, Collins said.

Moments later, the body cam video shows Wyche “starting to limp a little bit” from being shot in his lower leg, the prosecutor said. “It was not a life-threatening wound by the way, according to the medical examiner.”

After Wyche ran across the field, Reedy and Velasquez decided to hold back because the “police officers don’t want to run across the open field” out of fear of being shot. They wait until backup units arrive, and “then they begin to go across the field; and that’s when on the audio you can heard a single gunshot go off,” Collins said.

The officers at that point waited for a K-9 unit to arrive. The tracking dog located Wyche behind a fence. Velasquez then ran around the fence to find Wyche dead with a gunshot wound to his head. A handgun was found near his body, Collins said.

“That single shot was not caused by the officer,” the prosecutor said. Wyche would not have been able to take “three or four steps” — as he did after being struck in the leg — if he had been shot in the head during his exchange of gunfire with police, Collins said the medical examiner concluded.

The round that struck Wyche in the leg “didn’t hurt him enough to stop him,” Collins said.

Collins said he allowed Wyche’s family to view the body camera footage and state police reports of the investigation before he made his decision to clear the officer. “Then I met with them again after I made the decision.”

It could not immediately be determined how Wyche, who was not of legal age to obtain a handgun, acquired the weapon. Collins said that was not the focus of his review and referred questions to Virginia State Police and Colonial Heights police.

A state police spokeswoman said a request for that information by the Richmond Times-Dispatch was denied. Colonial Heights police officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Wyche was charged in Hopewell with stealing a firearm in July 2018 and carrying a concealed weapon in January 2020, but the charges in both cases eventually were withdrawn, according to court records. He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in June 2019.

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