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Bodycam footage of fatal shooting shows both Henrico officers fired weapons at woman wielding ax

Body-worn camera footage from the two Henrico County police officers who entered a woman’s home in Short Pump during a welfare check Tuesday morning shows the woman — who emerged from a bathroom charging the officers with an ax — was shot by both of them, a detail that was not released in the police chief’s initial account of the incident.

The footage — shown to reporters at the county’s Public Safety Building on Friday afternoon before the family was able to view it — began with the officers on the back porch of Gay Ellen Plack’s house in the 2900 block of Huntwick Court in the Wellesley subdivision near Pump and Three Chopt roads. They enter the home through an unlocked door, repeatedly shouting her name and identifying themselves as police. They search upstairs and downstairs and come to a locked bedroom door they eventually kick open.

One officer enters a dark bathroom attached to the bedroom while holding a flashlight near his head, with his gun in the other hand by his side. He remarks that he sees blood in the bathroom.

He pushes the door open slightly and it quickly rebounds, hitting the officer, and Plack barges out from behind it, swinging an ax with a small head and a 2-foot-long handle. The officer in the bathroom retreats to the adjacent kitchen, then Plack charges silently at the other officer in the bedroom. His gun is holstered as Plack approaches swinging the ax.

“No, no, no. Put that down,” the officer says before shooting her. The other officer, who had retreated to the kitchen, fires his weapon from behind Plack in the frenzied few seconds in which four gunshots are audible.

As Plack lies bleeding on the ground, the officer who was charged in the bedroom says: “Ms. Gay, why’d you do that? We’re just trying to help you.”

Plack never made a sound throughout any portion of the two videos that reporters saw Friday, one from each officer’s camera system. One clip was longer than 26 minutes, but reporters saw only about 10 minutes — police officials stopped it a few minutes after the shooting.

Neighbors described hearing Plack moan as several people carried her from the house to an ambulance. She was taken to a hospital, where she died the same day.

Plack, 57, had struggled for years with bipolar disorder and had been involuntarily committed to hospitals several times, Plack’s older brother, Bob Bostock, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday. Plack had been taken to a hospital for three days in recent weeks, he said. Reacting to a summary of the video, Bostock said Friday that he continues to question why the officers forced their way into her home and her bedroom.

Police confirmed that a doctor had called them to carry out a wellness check — they get similar calls for county residents daily, they said. Bostock said police have responded to her home numerous times before and never entered. Police could not confirm this Friday night.

“She never answers the door because she’s scared of police. She’s scared they’ll take her back to the hospital,” he said. Bostock added that police have also come into contact with Plack in public when she’s having a manic episode. “None of those times they had to kill her to bring her in.”

Bostock, who lives in Lawrenceville, N.J., questions whether the officers could have subdued her in other ways. He said his sister was 5-foot-4; both male officers were taller.

Henrico Police Chief Humberto Cardounel defends his officers’ actions. The department has not yet released their identities.

“What we have seen here comports with a reasonable use of force,” he said Friday. “I feel confident in the officers’ actions.”

Cardounel said officers rendered first aid immediately. They were not seen rendering aid in the video clips shown Friday, one of which included about two minutes of footage after the shooting. The officers thought Plack had only a superficial wound to her hand, Cardounel said.

Plack died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to the state medical examiner. The wound to her stomach area is clearly visible in the video.

The officers had called for medical personnel to stand by before even entering the room prior to the shooting, but it is unclear how long it took them to arrive after the shooting. It was not shown in the video and police wouldn’t say Friday.

It is unclear whether gunfire from both officers struck Plack. But Cardounel released a video Thursday in which he described one officer retreating from the woman and another officer shooting her as she then came toward him swinging her weapon. Cardounel said Friday that he didn’t mean to mislead anyone in Thursday’s video; he said he was not speaking from a script and his narrative focused on the officer who had no escape route as Plack charged at him.

“The officer at that point literally had less than four seconds to make a decision, although he made several attempts and pleaded for her to stop and for her to desist,” Cardounel said in the video Thursday. “She continued to come at him with the ax. And the officer had to make the most difficult decision in his life and his career, which was to use deadly force.”

Only one of the two officers — the one who was being charged at by Plack — had a Taser as well as a gun. The video shows the Taser was never used.

Henrico police allowed reporters to view the video taken on both officers’ bodycams but prohibited reporters from taking photos or videos of the footage and have not released it publicly. Cardounel said the immediate family — Plack’s two adult children and ex-husband — have been offered a chance to view the videos, but they hadn’t seen it as of Friday evening.

Cardounel’s unusual, nearly six-minute video message on Thursday was the department’s first explanation of the shooting since identifying Plack on Tuesday and saying that officers were involved.

Henrico’s Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor, as well as her chief deputy, Michael Huberman, pushed police to show the bodycam videos. Taylor will ultimately determine whether to bring criminal charges against the officers. While she said she hadn’t made any decision yet, Taylor said Friday: “I have no concerns about the officers’ actions in the video that is why I was confident in showing the footage to the media.”

Taylor pursued criminal charges against the last Henrico officer who was involved in an on-duty shooting. In 2016, less than a year after shooting a woman in a car four times, including once in the back of the head, Joel D. Greenway was acquitted by a jury of all charges stemming from the shooting.

Cardounel said the county has never released bodycam footage before, but officials thought it would combat misinformation and speculation that has run rampant on social media since Tuesday.

Both Cardounel and Taylor sent their condolences to the family and said they did not want to discount the loss of life by focusing of the officers’ actions.

“The words seem hollow,” Bostock said Friday. “I have the same questions I’ve had all along. The whole thing just doesn’t make any sense to me.

“She didn’t deserve to die this way,” he continued. “I’m so angry that I haven’t had time to grieve.”


Plus
Richmond business, design and architectural firms create on-street pop-up parks for Park(ing) Day

Soaking up the sun on the last Friday of summer, a handful of friends enjoyed the balmy weather for a few hours in a pair of parking spots converted for the day into a 200-square-foot park.

Green carpet tile covered the asphalt on this patch in Jackson Ward as people sat on chairs and other furniture they bought online or brought from home. Soon, a crew would finish putting up the wooden beams holding together a cozy porch swing and hanging white curtains around them.

Parking spaces throughout Richmond were transformed into 22 tiny parks Friday, inviting people to take a moment to rest and reflect or hang out with friends and neighbors during the day.

Organized by Venture Richmond in observance of International Park(ing) Day, various businesses volunteered to transform part of the street in front of their shops for a friendly competition intended to raise awareness for the city’s parklet program and get people thinking about how public space is used.

An eclectic mix of installations were scattered around the city, with designs emulating front porches, gardens and spooky scenes from Edgar Allan Poe stories — just in time for the start of autumn on Monday.

“We’re meant to be in green spaces. I always walk down to City Hall just to be near trees during my lunch break. It renews your soul,” said Dana Herrault, an interior designer with the firm Walter Parks Architects.

Outside of their offices on North Adams Street, the firm’s architects created their own front porch, complete with a swing, fringe curtains and a small outdoor table where people were gathered, talking and laughing late in the morning.

“Human interaction is good,” Herrault said. “This invites people to talk to each other and unites our community in ways that it normally wouldn’t.”

“I think it just makes you feel better. It de-stresses you,” Sarah Grady, an assistant costume designer at the Virginia Repertory Theatre, said about turning the parking spaces into tiny parks. “This is a bit of whimsy to brighten your day,” she said after snapping a picture of the Poe park in front of Visual Arts Studio on Broad Street.

Others created spaces intended to open up dialogue about issues, such as homelessness, or gave people a blank canvas on which to draw or write whatever they wanted.

On Main Street in Monroe Ward, the advertising firm Elevation partnered with Virginia Supportive Housing to create a parklet that looked like the frame of a home with a park bench, a grocery store shopping cart and detritus surrounded by messages about homelessness.

Aaron Dotson, principal and creative director for Elevation, said his team had thought about how parks are often used and had wanted to help a nonprofit the firm has worked with in the past.

“It struck us that for far too many people in our community that a park is a home,” he said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to use our parklet to raise awareness of the work that Virginia Supportive Housing is doing and to help people in the community understand that a park doesn’t have to be a home.”

While other organizations have worked with the city in recent years to observe Park(ing) Day — which was created in San Francisco in 2005 — Venture Richmond officials organized this year’s event to promote its mission to make city streets “more vibrant and interesting,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, the advocacy group’s director of riverfront and downtown placemaking.

“Especially in a downtown urban environment, it’s hard to find space to sit, decompress, drink coffee or visit a friend,” he said. “I know it’s important for people to drive where they want to go, but it’s also important for people walking around to have a space to enjoy their city.”

The city began piloting a parklet program in 2016 to allow property owners and businesses to apply to create temporary parklets on public rights of way. Hepp-Buchanan said there were no parklets in the city before the ones put in place for the day Friday, but hopes the event encourages people to consider applying to create new ones.

Venture Richmond will work with Walter Parks Architects, the winner of the competition, to help create a parklet somewhere in the city and will give up to $5,000 to assist the winning firm in designing it and getting the city’s approval.


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Virginia
Campaign misfire, as Sen. Chase changes Facebook ad on gun groups

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, revised a Facebook campaign ad on Friday that groups working for gun control said targeted them with potential violence but her campaign called a “communications oversight.”

The ad shows Chase with a pistol at a firing range beneath a message from the senator that originally said, “I’m not afraid to shoot down gun groups.”

Campaign manager Philip Search said the third-party media team that produced the ad used an incorrect statement. In the new statement, Chase says, “I’m not afraid to shoot down attacks from any anti-gun groups, because gun rights are women’s rights.”

“That is the original ad,” Search said.

The revised language didn’t go far enough for her opponent, Democrat Amanda Pohl, who said, “Mistake or not, it’s still violent rhetoric that has to be addressed.”

Pohl called on Chase to apologize to gun control groups that felt targeted.

Lori Haas, Virginia director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, took the original statement personally.

“When Senator Chase says she’ll ‘shoot down gun groups,’ she’s talking about me,” said Haas, whose daughter Emily was wounded in the shooting that killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in 2007.

“While Senator Chase might not agree with me and other activists who want to prevent gun violence in our communities, she at the very least needs to listen to our concerns and not take out campaign ads threatening to shoot us,” she said as part of a news release from Progress Virginia that called on Chase to drop out of the race.

Chase is an unapologetic advocate for gun-owner rights who drew attention earlier this year for wearing a holstered pistol on her hip in the Virginia Senate.

She began openly carrying the .38-caliber pistol at the Capitol in January on the day she was presenting her proposed legislative alternative to the Equal Rights Amendment.

“Sometimes it’s a deterrent for over-exuberant folks. Unfortunately in the General Assembly, we see the good, we see the bad, we see all types of things,” Chase said in an interview then. “It’s just for personal safety, quite honestly.”

Her campaign’s Facebook ad urges viewers to sign a petition to “Protect your guns.”

Chase is seeking a second term to represent the 11th Senate District, which she won with 64% of the vote in 2015 after upsetting Sen. Steve Martin in the Republican primary. The district includes part of Chesterfield County and all of Amelia County.

Pohl called the senator’s initial statement in the campaign ad “another example of Senator Chase not being in touch with her district.”


MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH 

Chase


Plus
Mailer from Democrat Rodman calls Republican Sen. Dunnavant a 'quack'

Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, authorized a mail piece against her Senate opponent, Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, calling the OB-GYN a “quack.” Dunnavant called it a personal attack on her professional reputation as a doctor.

In a TV ad that began Friday, Rodman changed tone, beginning the ad by saying she respected Dunnavant’s work as a doctor and then attacking her over health care — which many candidates in this fall’s races say is the top issue for voters.

Asked in an interview Friday if she regretted authorizing a mailer calling Dunnavant a “quack” or heard any criticism, Rodman said she had not.

“I’ve delivered more people health care in ... three months in office than she has done in her whole tenure as a politician,” said Rodman, referring to the successful Democratic effort in 2018 to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans joined Democrats to support expansion, but most General Assembly Republicans — including Dunnavant — did not.

Dunnavant said that in addition to being called a fake doctor, the mail piece falsely said she is trying to let insurers deny health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

“This is a denigrating slur, and it’s one of the most offensive things you could say about a doctor because it implies that they are incompetent in their profession and in their expertise and in the care of their patients,” Dunnavant said. “It’s shocking to me that as a professional woman, I’m under assault by a woman who is a ... professor.”

Dunnavant’s campaign released a joint statement from two doctors, Christian Chisholm, an executive committee member with the Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative, and Hazle Konerding, a past president of the Medical Society of Virginia and a past president of the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

“Referring to a physician as a quack is an unacceptable professional insult. More to the point, in the case of Siobhan Dunnavant it is simply untrue,” they said in the statement. “The term ‘quack’ means an imposter who claims to have medical knowledge but in reality does not. Dr. Dunnavant is a respected member of the medical community who cares deeply for her patients and her constituents. Delegate Rodman’s attack is damaging to the medical profession, disregards a physician’s years of training and experience, and undermines the trust patients place in their doctors.”

Two GOP bills cited in the mail piece did not become law.

Dunnavant said one of them, which she filed in 2018, was designed to create a low-cost insurance choice for someone who loses health insurance. While Republicans said the bill expanded choice, Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed it, saying in a 2018 statement that the bill would allow insurance carriers and individuals to circumvent the protections in the federal Affordable Care Act.

“Delegate Rodman may not know this, but the short term gap coverage market has been able to apply pre-existing condition exclusions for many years, before I ever even served in the Senate,” Dunnavant wrote on her website. “My bill made it easier for those who had no other options and wanted to avoid the risk of bankruptcy for a medical event.”

Northam said at the time that a better opportunity was expanding Medicaid.

The other bill this year was from Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield, to allow more people to purchase low-cost, high-deductible “catastrophic” health plans. Northam vetoed that bill along with three others that he said in March would undermine Virginia’s health insurance marketplace and raise premiums.

Dunnavant was first elected in 2015 and is seeking a second term. Rodman, a professor at Randolph-Macon College, unseated Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, in the 2017 wave election that flipped 15 Republican seats in the House of Delegates.

The Senate race is a priority for both parties because it’s among those that will determine control of the chamber, which is in GOP hands. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election Nov. 5.