When Frederick Gray awoke beside his girlfriend in the wee hours of May 15, 1997, he was disturbed, distraught and saying things she had never heard him say before. Though Gray was not on drugs and had no history of mental illness, he was roving around the apartment, talking crazy, muttering about harming her or himself. A neighbor called the police; when they began to arrive, Gray said, “5-0? Is that the 5-0? Well, if I’m going to die I’m going to die anyway.” This account is according to court documents.
Turns out, Gray did die that night, shot by Albemarle County Police Sgt. Amos Chiarappa. On November 17 this year, a jury in Charlottesville Circuit Court found Chiarappa guilty of committing assault and battery and grossly negligent in Gray’s death. Barring an appeal, the Gray family will see $4.5 million in damages for a killing that happened nearly 10 years ago.
Responding to the neighbor’s call in 1997, police found Gray naked and unarmed at his apartment in the Squire Hill apartment complex on Old Brook Road. Lawyers for Gray’s family alleged several police officers beat him with nightsticks and heavy metal flashlights and sprayed him with pepper spray inside the apartment, then dragged him outside where they tried to handcuff him. Gray fought back, police said, disabling three officers. Sgt. Amos Chiarappa had no choice, the defense contended, but to shoot an out-of-control Gray.
In court, one of the officers who was at the scene demonstrated for the jury how quickly the shooting happened. Raising his arm above his head, he mimicked two blows that came from Chiarappa’s baton. “Get down, get down. Bang, bang. …And that was it,” he said.
Gray died with gunshot wounds to the back and side.
Charges against another officer were dropped; three others who were present were found not liable.
Gray’s attorney, Debbie Wyatt, says, “I love to think what it must mean for the Gray family. We had already determined that if we don’t win this [retrial], we were not going to win [the lawsuit].” Chiarappa was cleared in a 2003 trial, but the State Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge should have allowed some prior evidence.
This verdict may give hope to plaintiffs in other shooting lawsuits currently filed against City and County police.