By Scott Daugherty The Virginian-Pilot
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A Portsmouth police officer shot an armed burglary suspect in the back as he fled.
When prosecutors reviewed the case, they secured indictments that could send Officer Jeremy Durocher to prison for the rest of his life.
When the police department command staff reviewed it, they named him officer of the month and gave him a medal.
“In recognition for your heroic response,” Police Chief Tonya Chapman wrote in the medal of valor commendation. “You took necessary steps to stop the threat that this suspect posed to the public and to your fellow officers at great personal risk.”
On Thursday, a grand jury charged Durocher with two felony counts, aggravated malicious wounding and a firearms charge. The indictment alleges he shot 18-year-old Deontrace Ward with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable or kill.
An attorney for Ward said Friday he was not aware of the two honors bestowed on Durocher.
“If I were a citizen of the city of Portsmouth, this information would make me fearful for my life,” S.W. Dawson said, arguing it encouraged officers to shoot first and ask questions later.
"This speaks to a culture that is dangerous in that police department," said James Boyd, president of the Portsmouth NAACP. He said the police chief should choose to recognize her officers when they do good community engagement work, not shoot people.
The president of the Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police and Durocher’s attorney, however, said the awards showed prosecutors were wrong to seek charges against the officer.
“The ones that know what is happening on the front lines recognized him for valor,” defense attorney Nicholas Renninger said, adding that Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales was second-guessing a split-second decision made by an officer doing his job.
“He absolutely deserved that award,” said Sgt. Matt Crutcher of the FOP. “He did exactly what we trained him to do.”
Durocher shot Ward on Oct. 29, 2017, as he ran from a burglary in the 1100 block of Tatem Ave.
In a video recorded by Durocher's department-issued body camera, the officer yells, "He has a gun!" when he first sees Ward running from the home and later tells fellow officers the teen "waved" the gun at him. Police found a gun, but it was inside the bottom of Ward's right pant leg.
Morales stepped aside from Ward’s criminal case in April, arranging for it to be handled by a special prosecutor so she could review the evidence against Durocher.
That was about two months before Chapman gave Durocher the medal and five months after Capt. Rich Springer emailed the department’s sworn officers to say Durocher had been chosen over 11 other nominees as the October 2017 officer of the month.
Ward pleaded guilty in June to breaking into the home, stealing some jewelry and illegally possessing a firearm. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
In exchange for his plea, the special prosecutor agreed to drop charges that Ward brandished his firearm or assaulted Durocher.