An attorney for a Virginia-based security company said the shooting of a 60-year-old man last month was "justifiable" after a security officer felt his life was in danger when the man tried to run the officer down with his van.
Andrew Sacks, attorney for Citywide Protection Services, spoke to reporters Monday about the fatal shooting of Jiansheng Chen, who died after a Citywide officer discharged his firearm at Chen's van in the River Walk neighborhood of Chesapeake, Virginia.
"Our focus is on what happened that night," Sacks told NBC News following the press conference, adding that Citywide Protection Services was cooperating fully with ongoing investigations into the Jan. 26 incident, but wanted to counter any information out there that sought to misrepresent the company's actions.
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According to a prepared statement read by Sacks, two individuals, either related to or close to Chen, were given notices they were barred from the area for a year by Citywide officers in 2015 for being in an area they were not permitted to be in after hours. On Jan. 16, 2017, two Citywide officers encountered Chen and one of the individuals previously barred, and determined they were "in violation of the community's rules by being where they were after hours." Both were given "bar notices" from the area for six months.
On Jan. 26, shortly before 11 p.m., Sacks said the individual who was with Chen on Jan. 16 returned to the area, and one of the Citywide officers (who was present for the Jan. 16 stop) escorted the individual back to their home and was told they were not allowed to trespass.
A short time later, according to Sacks, the same officer observed a blue van in the neighborhood, and recognized the driver as Chen. When the officer attempted to approach the van and make an inquiry about why Chen was in the area, Sacks said Chen "backed up and started moving forward at which point the officer was in front of the van again commanding that it stop."
Sacks said the officer attempted to get out of the way, but "whatever evasive action the security guard tried to take, the van tracked and followed the officer ignoring commands to stop."
"Faced with an immediate threat to his life and safety, the officer brandished his weapon and again commanded the driver to stop but the driver did not," Sacks said. "Ultimately, faced with a situation in which he could not safely escape the oncoming van headed straight for him, the security guard, out of total necessity, and in reasonable fear for his life and safety, fired in an effort to stop and repel the threat to his life and safety."
Sacks' statement on Monday provides different details about the night of the shooting than what Chen family attorney, Greg Sandler, told NBC News last week. According to Sandler, Chen had just dropped his sister-in-law off at home, then left in his van around 10:30 p.m. to go out to play Pokemon Go, which he enjoyed as a way to engage with his nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
When Chen didn't answer his phone after several calls, Chen's brother went out to search for him, and came upon the police scene with Chen's minivan shot multiple times, according to Sandler.
"The information that we have seen at the van and learned from a couple of people who either saw or heard various parts of this indicated that the security person was standing in front of the van and fired somewhere between five and 10 shots directly through the driver's front windshield of the van," Sandler said. "Mr. Chen was killed instantly."
In a statement released by Sandler, the Chen family described Chen as a "man with [a] loving heart" and a "pioneer" who was the first in the family to immigrate to the U.S. from China. At a vigil held Sunday night in the River Walk neighborhood, dozens came out to show their support for the family as they waited for information from the police.
"Everybody in the Chinese community is very sad," Yuzhu Zheng, a Virginia Beach resident who didn't know Chen but attended the vigil, told The Virginian-Pilot. "They hope they can get fair justice."
Sandler did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment Monday evening.
Chesapeake Police Department spokeswoman Officer Kelly Elliott told NBC News last week that the security officer had gone to speak with Chen, but had no additional specifics to give. "There was not a physical altercation. There was a disagreement," Elliot, who also said nobody has been charged in the incident, said.
A voicemail left Monday afternoon with a spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Police Department was not immediately returned, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Chesapeake could not immediately be reached for comment.
A voicemail left at a phone number listed on the website of the River Walk Community Association was also not returned.
Sacks told NBC News he was not in the position to release the sources of his investigation, and said he has no knowledge of any video or audio recordings from the night of Jan. 26. "There may be one, but I don't have one or haven't been provided one," he said.
Grandfather Shot While Playing Pokemon GoJan. 31, 201701:23
Sacks also said there were no immediate plans to release the written bar notices that were given to Chen or the other individuals who were stopped for trespassing.
When asked during the press conference by a reporter if the security company could be sure Chen and others understood the bar notices, given that Chen's command of English was "very limited," according to family attorney Sandler, Sacks said, "I'm not going to comment, I'm not going to try and speculate. I think the bar notices speak for themselves."
Sacks added he didn't feel there was a language barrier during the investigation and aftermath of the Jan. 26 shooting. Sacks told NBC News that he had no comment on the officer in question's employment status at this time, but that Citywide was a private security company licensed by the state of Virginia to provide protection and security services — including armed services.
Sacks also said that Citywide has not reached out to Chen's family while the investigation continues, but are expressing their sympathies through Monday's statement, which Citywide felt was important to release at this time.
"If what I have represented to you in this statement turns out to be the facts, then it isn’t even a close question that this was a justifiable shooting," Sacks said at the press conference. "A tragic one, a very sad one, but we live in a country where we have a right to defend ourselves and our lives and our persons when we are threatened with death or imminent bodily harm. And that’s what our investigation indicates is the case here."
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