Tuesday, February 7, 2023

WJCC Prosecutor: Officer-Involved Shooting was Justified

Virginia State Police and James City County Police blocked access to Colonial Manor Senior Living Center after a fatal, officer-involved shooting May 20. (Nicole Trifone/WYDaily)
Virginia State Police and James City County Police blocked access to Colonial Manor Senior Living Center after a fatal, officer-involved shooting May 20. (Nicole Trifone/WYDaily)

James City County Police Officer Jeff Meister was justified in shooting and killing 26-year-old Anthony Michael Bland in May.

That’s the finding from Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green, who released his official report on the incident Thursday. As the commonwealth’s attorney for the locality where the shooting occurred, Green was tasked with examining the facts of the case to determine if Meister’s conduct constituted a crime.

“After studying the investigation report prepared by the State Police, the in car videos of officers responding to the scene, and the autopsy report of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, I have concluded that the use of deadly force by James City County Officer Jeff Meister was justified under Virginia’s law on self-defense,” Green said in a statement.

According to Green’s report, officers from the James City County Police Department responded to a reported fight at Colonial Manor Senior Living on May 20. Two men who were roommates were in an altercation there, which eventually moved outside.

Meister arrived on scene first, where he observed 26-year-old Anthony Bland in the parking lot of Colonial Manor. He saw Bland enter a parked vehicle and begin to back up. Meister stopped his patrol car near Bland before he exited the car and instructed Bland to stop.

At that point, Bland had a clear path to drive his car forward and away from Meister as well as a clear path to back away from Meister, according to the report. Instead, Bland accelerated in reverse, made a 180-degree turn and drove the rear of his car into the left side of the patrol car. That move pinned Meister between the passenger side tail-light area of Bland’s vehicle and the driver side rear quarter panel of the patrol car. That move broke Meister’s pelvis and elbow.

Bland continued to accelerate until his vehicle pushed past the patrol car. Meister drew his service weapon when his legs were pinned between the vehicles. Once freed from between the two cars, Bland was still behind the wheel. According to Green, Meister believed Bland was about to accelerate into him again, so he fired several shots from his weapon at Bland.

Bland was wounded from the gunfire. He got out of the vehicle and charged at Meister, saying it was his intent to kill him. Meister continued to shoot at Bland as he charged at him, but Bland was able to reach Meister and start a physical struggle. Meister continued to shoot at Bland until the magazine in his handgun was empty.

Another officer arrived on scene then, watching Bland charging at Meister. That officer pointed his weapon at Bland to defend Meister, but Bland collapsed before he could fire a shot. Bland died on scene, while Meister had to be airlifted to the hospital.

The autopsy from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond determined Bland died of a gunshot wound to the neck and chest.

“An imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury may be met with deadly force,” Green wrote in his report. “Officer Meister’s belief that he faced the threat of death or serious bodily injury was reasonable based on the circumstances as they appeared to him. Faced with the threat of serious bodily injury, Officer Meister’s use of deadly force was justified under the law.”

Maj. Stephen Rubino of the James City County Police Department said Thursday that Meister has not yet fully returned to duty. An internal investigation from his department exonerated Meister.

Though Bland was not a senior citizen, he lived at Colonial Manor as part of a Community Service Board program that provides transitional housing for people to get back on their feet. Shortly after the shooting occurred, Pedro Becerra, the owner and director of Colonial Manor, said Bland did not present any problems when he lived there.

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