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In law enforcement, the use of deadly force is an unfortunate necessity under life-threatening circumstances. Unfortunately, those circumstances are sometimes not all that cut and dry. On April 23, 2011, a Portsmouth, Virginia (VA) police officer shot and killed a 26 year old as he was trying to enter the apartment complex at which he was staying.

The victim, Kirill Denyakin, a native of Kazakstan, had been staying with a friend at his Olde Towne apartment on Green Street while he worked as a cook for the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel. Around 10:00 pm that Saturday night, Portsmouth Police responded to the apartment building for a report of burglary. There, Officer Stephen D. Rankin found Denyakin apparently banging on a door to the building.

Rankin reported that Denyakin did not respond to the officer’s commands, made “furtive movements” with his hands at his waistband, and lunged toward the officer. Officer Rankin responded by firing his gun, which hit Denyakin with 11 bullets. Denyakin was unarmed. An autopsy revealed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.28, well above the legal limit for intoxication.

The Virginia State Police are handling the investigation into the shooting to determine if it was justified. Meanwhile, Portsmouth Police are conducting an internal investigation into some of Officer Rankin’s Facebook postings previous to the incident. According to the Virginian-Pilot, one such posting was a photo of the officer’s handguns, along with captions including, “That’s rankins box of VENGEANCE!”

We trust our law enforcement officers with a great deal of responsibility- they have the power to kill when necessary. Nonetheless, there is a line between a justifiable shooting to protect the officer and/or the public from danger and a shooting that was premature or overzealous on the part of the officer. As a wrongful death personal injury lawyer, I must say that the circumstances here seem questionable. Granted, Denyakin may have been very intoxicated, but intoxication and odd behavior do not constitute grounds for the use of deadly force. As the investigation into the shooting continues, we are left asking ourselves what alternatives to firing a handgun might have been available to handle this tragic situation. Our thoughts go out to Kirill Denyakin’s family and friends.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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