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Case Moves Forward Against Man Who Shot Pokemon Go-Playing Grandfather

by Chris Fuchs /
Jiansheng Chen on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Chen was killed while reportedly playing Pokemon Go, allegedly by a community security guard. He played the game to relate to his grandchildren and nieces and nephews, according to his family.Courtesy of the Chen Family

A Virginia judge Tuesday certified charges against a security guard accused of fatally shooting a grandfather who his family said was out playing Pokemon Go the night he was killed.

Johnathan Cromwell, 22, learned the news at a Tuesday morning preliminary hearing at General District Court in Virginia. He had been charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of murder in the Jan. 26 shooting of 60-year-old Jiansheng Chen in Chesapeake, Virginia.

The judge’s decision means there is sufficient evidence for prosecutors to go ahead with their case against Cromwell. It will now move to Circuit Court.

“We don’t know what the result will be, but at least it’s the right track,” Nelson Lu, a longtime friend of Chen who attended the hearing, told NBC News.

While on patrol, Cromwell allegedly confronted Chen, a retiree and immigrant from China, after Chen drove his blue van into the driveway of the River Walk clubhouse parking area, prosecutors have said.

A Chen family attorney has said Chen went there to play Pokemon Go, a GPS-based virtual reality game, as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. He also said Chen’s command of English was very limited.

RELATED: Mourners Remember Grandfather Killed by Security Guard at Chinatown Wake

Cromwell stopped his own vehicle in front of Chen’s, according to a statement from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney. Chen then backed up and turned his van around to the entrance of the driveway, which faces River Walk Parkway, prosecutors said.

That, according to the commonwealth’s attorney statement, was when Chen was shot.

Cromwell, who worked for Citywide Protection Services, exited his car and said “stop” before allegedly firing his weapon, according to authorities.

An attorney for the security company has said Cromwell feared for his life and shot in self-defense — a claim advanced in court Tuesday by his new defense attorney, according to NBC-affiliate WAVY.

Chen, who police have said was not armed, was shot four times in his upper left chest and once in his left upper arm, the commonwealth’s attorney has said. He died at the scene.

Jiansheng Chen, celebrating his 60th birthday with family members (who asked not to be identified). Chen was killed while reportedly playing Pokemon Go, allegedly by a community security guard. He played the game to relate to his grandchildren and nieces and nephews, according to his family.Courtesy of the Chen family

Following a bond hearing in February, WAVY reported that the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office for the City of Chesapeake told a judge that Cromwell allegedly fired seven shots.

According to WAVY, prosecutors said the first shot came through the driver’s side window, though Cromwell's attorney said Tuesday there was no evidence of that.

Prosecutors on Tuesday cited that fact as proof that Cromwell’s life was not in danger, the station reported.

RELATED: Politicians, Advocates Call for Answers in Fatal Shooting of Grandfather

Efforts to reach Cromwell’s lawyer late Tuesday afternoon were not immediately successful.

Lu said around 50 supporters of Chen, including family and friends, packed the courtroom for Tuesday’s hearing. Cromwell’s family was also present, according to WAVY.

The Virginian-Pilot reported that, according to parts of a statement read aloud in court, Cromwell told a detective that he yelled at Chen to stop between 10 and 15 times, but Chen shook his head “no.”

Johnathan CromwellChesapeake Sheriff's Office

Cromwell said Chen would’ve run him over had he not opened fire, but a detective testified that the security guard’s account of what had happened did not hold water, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Outside the courthouse Cromwell’s father declined to comment, the paper and WAVY reported.

An attorney for the security company, Andrew Sacks, has previously said Chen had been served a written notice barring him from the clubhouse parking area after sunset. Security officers issued it because Chen had been at the location after hours, a violation of community rules, Sacks said.

The homeowner’s association ended its contract with Citywide Protection Services shortly after Cromwell’s arrest.

Cromwell, meanwhile, remains behind bars after being denied bond twice. He also parted ways with his first attorneys in April after communications with them had broken down. A public defender now represents him.

Chen, whose wife lived in Brooklyn, New York, was remembered at a funeral service in Manhattan’s Chinatown in March. He was to be laid to rest at a cemetery in New Jersey.

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