A judge dismissed charges Thursday against a man arrested in a shooting in a downtown Richmond apartment building that left one man dead and another injured.
After a lengthy hearing in Manchester General District Court, Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland ruled that Quinn E. Hazelwood was acting in self-defense when he shot the two men just after midnight May 10 on the seventh floor of the American Heritage Apartments at 1001 E. Main St.
Phillip O. “Pip” Nikolenko, 26, was declared dead at the scene. Georgiy A. Gapanovitch, Nikolenko’s friend, was hospitalized for an extended period at VCU Medical Center.
Nikolenko and Gapanovitch had gotten in an earlier argument with Hazelwood about valet parking at Vanquish, a restaurant and cigar lounge at 1005 E. Main St., and testimony indicated the two Russian friends followed Hazelwood back to his apartment building.
Defense attorney David P. Baugh said his client, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds, was victimized by “two extremely intoxicated martial artists.”
Nikolenko and Gapanovitch had received martial arts training. Nikolenko was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 203 pounds, and Gapanovitch said he is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 200.
Testimony at the hearing indicated Nikolenko and Gapanovitch had been celebrating Victory Day, a Russian holiday that marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945.
Nikolenko’s autopsy showed he had a blood-alcohol level of nearly 0.26 percent. Gapanovitch’s level was measured at 0.29 percent at the hospital. The level at which someone is considered too intoxicated to drive in Virginia is 0.08.
Baugh said Hazelwood, 27, who was charged with manslaughter and malicious wounding, had a bruised lip, a bruised thumb, shoulder abrasions and scratches on his fingers.
“He has every reason to defend himself,” Baugh said. “And he did.”
Testimony indicated the argument began May 9 about 11:30 p.m. when the two Russians pulled their car into the valet parking area at Vanquish. The two men, apparently unaware that the valet service was no longer being staffed, waited for an attendant, and Hazelwood, who was behind them in his truck, grew impatient, and they exchanged words.
After they both parked, they ran into each other in the line that had formed to get into the club, and the words continued, with Nikolenko at one point slapping Hazelwood on the back of the head with an open hand. When Hazelwood left the club, the Russians followed.
Gapanovitch testified that he and Nikolenko watched Hazelwood get into one of the three elevators in the lobby of the apartment building and watched the indicator lights show that the elevator went to the seventh floor. Gapanovitch said he and Nikolenko then got on another elevator and went to the seventh floor. When the elevator doors swung open, Hazelwood was waiting for them and began shooting, Gapanovitch said.
Hazelwood did not testify Thursday, but Richmond police Detective Anthony Coates testified that the defendant offered a different version of events, saying the two Russians got onto the elevator with him and began beating him up on the ride to the seventh floor of the 10-story building. Hazelwood told Coates he pulled a revolver from his waistband and began firing, striking Gapanovitch twice inside the elevator and then shooting Nikolenko as the struggle spilled out of the elevator and continued in the seventh-floor hallway.
Gapanovitch was found just outside the elevator. He had a graze wound to one ear, and a second bullet entered his upper left torso and traveled down into his left leg.
Gapanovitch said he remembered nothing after being struck by the second bullet in the torso and falling to the floor.
Nikolenko was found about 30 feet from the elevator. He had been shot once in the carotid artery, and a second bullet entered through his face and lodged in his brain.
Before issuing his ruling, the judge noted that Nikolenko was prone to violence, as evidenced by an assault conviction this year for an incident in Dinwiddie County in 2013.
Thorne-Begland also said he also found it noteworthy that Hazelwood went to his apartment building and pushed the button to go to his seventh-floor apartment, providing what the judge called evidence of attempting to retreat from a confrontation.
“Mr. Hazelwood was ultimately entitled to defend himself,” Thorne-Begland said. “I don’t see a manslaughter and I don’t see a malicious wounding at this point. Both cases are dismissed.”
Learned D. Barry, the deputy commonwealth’s attorney who oversees Richmond’s homicide cases, said prosecutors concurred with Thorne-Begland’s ruling and, unless new evidence emerges, had no plans to pursue the case.