Death of Kirill Denyakin
Kirill Ivanovich Denyakin (Russian: Кирилл Иванович Денякин) was a 26-year-old English speaking Kazakhstani national killed by a police officer in Portsmouth, Virginia, in The United States of America on the evening of April 23, 2011. Denyakin who was intoxicated by alcohol at a 0.28 BAC and reportedly acting in a bizarre manner at the time of the encounter (approximately 10:10 PM EST) was later determined to have been unarmed despite his furtive movements that led the first responders to believe otherwise, but by his irrational behavior (including reaching into his waistband when the officer arrived, charged at the officer and ignored multiple repeated requests by the officer to stop) caused AT LEAST one citizen to summon police. As a result of the events that night, Virginia State Police at the request of Portsmouth Police Chief Edward Hargis began a criminal investigation of the shooting, while Denyakin's family hastily filed a civil suit seeking money damages against The officer and the Portsmouth, Va. Police Department.
In order to prevent any appearance of inpropriety a state grand jury was empaneled by Portsmouth Commonwealth Attorney Earl Mobley, the jury refused to indict the officer on criminal charges based on the totality of the evidence, including Denyakins reported but unconfirmed recent arrest for stalking, status as an immigrant who had overstayed his term and actions that night. A federal jury also found in the officers favor in the civil case. The "handling" of the case allegedly led to some tension in Kazakhstan–United States relations, with supposed protests by Kazakhstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs even in lieu of reports he was wanted in his native country. With the assistance of the Kazakhstani government, Denyakin's family appealed the ruling in the civil case to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that court upheld the lower court's ruling stating the lower court had "made no retractable errors". Denyakin's family have not decided whether to attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. However in light of SCOTUS history and this cases circumstances and evidence it is unlikely the court would agree to hear the case regardless.
Denyakin was a native of Kazakhstan. Early reports gave his surname as Suchin. His father Ivan Denyakin, mother Yelena Denyakina, and younger brother Roman Denyakin resided in Karaganda, Karagandy Province, Kazakhstan. He attended Karaganda School No. 3 and went on to a local university; in his third year of studies there in 2006, he obtained a temporary U.S. visa under the Work and Travel USA program, and moved to the United States. Local newspaper The Virginian-Pilot later reported that Denyakin overstayed his visa in order to continue working in the United States. He was sending money back to Kazakhstan to help his parents support his younger brother. At the time of his death, he had been employed as a cook at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel for two years.
Denyakin had dated a Romanian woman named Nicoletta, but the two later separated. In February 2011, about two months before his death, Denyakin went to the building where his ex-girlfriend lived; Portsmouth police officers were summoned and arrested Denyakin at the scene, alleging that he had broken a window there and threatened them. He was charged with misdemeanor stalking, but the charges were dropped after Nicoletta failed to appear at court proceedings against Denyakin; a friend stated to reporters that she had left the United States. After Denyakin's breakup with Nicoletta, he had no place to live, so his friends Maurice and Natalya Wilson invited him to stay with them in their apartment on Green Street in the Olde Towne district of Portsmouth. Natalya was from Ukraine and spoke limited English, and communicated with Denyakin mostly in Russian.
On the afternoon of his death, Denyakin went to the apartment of another friend of his to pay a visit for Orthodox Easter and to pick up his laundry. While at his friend's home, he consumed four or five screwdrivers; the friend became concerned by Denyakin's behavior and texted her boyfriend, who came to her apartment at around 7 PM and told Denyakin to go out and sober up. Denyakin was still intoxicated when he arrived at the Wilsons' apartment at roughly 9 PM; after an argument with Natalya, who had previously told Denyakin that she did not like seeing him drunk around her baby, Natalya left the apartment and went to the restaurant where her husband Maurice worked. She found Maurice and his friend there and asked them to come home and deal with the situation; the two men carried Denyakin outside, took away his keys, and set him on the stoop to sober up, but Maurice had to return to work, leaving Natalya alone.
Denyakin awoke roughly an hour later and began pounding on the door. Natalya became alarmed and asked for help from her neighbor, who proceeded to call 9-1-1, the neighbor identified Denyakin to the police dispatcher and reported that he was "banging hard on the door" and "he is going to break the glass out". The dispatcher thus announced the incident correctly as a burglary in progress; an officer was nearby dealing with a homeless man and at 10:10 PM stated to the dispatcher that he would respond to the more serious "in progress" call. The following statements were made by the first responding officer and subsequently supported in the official reports based on the totality of the multiple ongoing investigations. Reports stated that the officer arrived at the Green Street apartment at 10:12 PM (EST) and found Denyakin standing at the same door of the building reported to have been under duress, and the officer immediately began giving verbal commands to Denyakin. The officer stated that Denyakin disregarded those commands, placed his hands on the midsection of his own body, and then charged at the officer. The officer subsequently opened fire as he felt "in danger for his life as the assailant closed the distance while charging at the officer. The officer had not synchronized his belt microphone with the dashcam in his police car that night, meaning that there was little audio (but ample video) record of the evening's events, all of which corroborated the officers testimony. From the officer's arrival to the discharge of his weapon, the entire incident lasted roughly two minutes.
A second officer arrived at the scene soon after. Early reports stated that this officer handcuffed Denyakin as is standard procedure, while in court the first officer later testified that the second officer had instructed him to cuff Denyakin himself. In either case, Denyakin was dead by the time paramedics arrived and the subsequent autopsy confirmed that the decedent had bullet wounds in his chest, left shoulder, right upper arm, left thigh, right flank, hip, right wrist, and left hand, and a blood alcohol content of 0.28%. The government of Kazakhstan paid the expenses for his mother to travel to the United States, make statements to police, and repatriate her son's body. He was buried in the Federovsky Cemetery in Karaganda in May 2011.
The Portsmouth Police Department did not initially reveal the identity of the officer who had shot Denyakin as is standard policy across U.S. policing agencies. The following month, upon all proper notifications being made the department announced that the officer's name was Stephen Rankin, The officer had reportedly worked for the Portsmouth Police Department for three-and-a-half years. Rankin, a native of Central California had served in the United States Navy from 2002 to 2007 and had been Honorably Discharged. Since being hired and graduating from the Hampton Roads Criminal Justice Academy "The Police Academy" in March 2008, the officer had only ONE line of duty incident. The incident resulted in the death of a vicious dog who was charging at the officer who was engaged in his duties and did so after all other options were exhausted. Vicious dogs pose a real, ongoing and common threat to Police Officers, especially those working in urban and suburban environments as many citizens have begun raising and keeping many of the more commonly known aggressive breeds.
After his identity was publicly released by Portsmouth,Va Police, Rankin's social media activity immediately came under what many regardless of their position on the shooting portrayed as unfairly harsh scrutiny from media in both the U.S. and Kazakhstan for his Facebook postings, in particular a July 2009 song "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight" from the album that went Gold Die, Die My Darling by an extremely popular punk band known as Misfits, and another posting in February 2010 with the caption "Love is ... Doing whatever is necessary". This and other incidents involving many other officers' social media activity led the International Association of Chiefs of Police to issue reminders to ALL officers to use caution when making social media postings. It was immediately alleged by MANY that Rankin's Facebook account had been improperly accessed and made public via unauthorized or fraudulent misrepresentation by either a member of a local media outlet or other disgruntled party. It was also later communicated on related stories on PilotOnline forums by several individuals familiar with Rankin and his Facebook account, that the account had for some time been set to "PRIVATE" so that Rankin's posts and personal musings, photo's and communications would not be viewable to the public in any form or fashion. Nevertheless, Rankin allegedly proceeded to leave numerous comments in online articles at the website of The Virginian-Pilot under the pseudonym "yourealythinkthat" defending the officers actions and disputing other commenters who questioned the officers actions. To date there has been NO evidence to support that the screename or online personality was Rankin, nor was it ever proven that these posts were even sanctioned or supported by the officer.
Denyakin's friend "Donovan" again alleged that Rankin and Denyakin's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend were friends. "Donovan" later alleged to Kazakhstani media that he had been the target of "police intimidation" for his comments. Again to date no specific agency or individual has been named by "Donovan" nor has any specific alleged event or alleged incident been supported by any type of evidence or fact. To date no fact finder or trier of fact has been able to confirm any "formal complaint" HAS EVER BEEN filed with ANY agency authorized to investigate what would be "color of law" violations of U.S. law. In July 2011, a group of people held a demonstration outside of Portsmouth City Hall in support of Rankin; event organizer Larry Gump Jr was quoted as stating, "This is a good officer who's proactive, who cares about his community ... I just felt like he was getting really beat up heavily and somebody had to come out here and show some support."
Virginia Commonwealth's Attorney Earle C. Mobley referred the matter to a state grand jury for consideration of charges, and Virginia State Police continued their criminal investigation. Rankin was placed on standard administrative leave during the investigation, under the standard procedure following a shooting. Erlan Idrisov, Kazakhstan's ambassador in Washington, DC, made a statement of concern to the United States Department of State, demanded a "thorough investigation", and expressed his hopes that Denyakin's relatives would be "compensated" properly. Kazakhstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to communicate frequently with the State Department about the case, and State Department officials, among them Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. as well as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Denyakin's friends and family allege Secretary Clinton called Mobley regularly to ask for updates on the investigation's status, a claim which still remains in question.
On February 9, 2012, the grand jury refused to indict Rankin. Altai Abibullayev, speaking on behalf of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan, expressed grave concern over the decision not to indict Rankin, describing it as "in conflict with international principles" providing no source for his opinion, while Idrisov stated that "I consider the officer's actions excessive and the ruling unjust" to date every duly entitled investigating agency including multiple levels of U.S. Judiciary have concluded that the officers actions that night while regrettable was proper and within the law.
Several of the sources listed above are news sources of questionable reputation such as the "China Daily News" which is a known communist governmental propaganda source. In fact from sources available to any reasonable fact finder and under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act it appears that several if not all of the quasi governmental entities, persons and news sources sought to add inflammatory accusations, comments, questionable facts and libelous statements against anyone who's position did not fall into line with pro-Denyakin supporters. It was also NOT reported that Denyakin's mother had serious issues with access to the U.S. due to her recent convictions for theft (typically considered a crime of moral turpitude) that rightly caused U.S. Immigration Authorities to initially refuse her access to the U.S. and specifically the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Denyakin family hastily filed a subsequently failed suit against Rankin on July 1, 2011, seeking US$22 million in damages. The suit, a civil action for deprivation of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and came before Judge Rebecca Smith. In November, the court ordered that the Denyakin family's lawyer could have access to state police investigative records.
In February 2012, after the grand jury declined to indict Rankin on criminal charges, the judge in the civil suit ordered a trial so that a jury could hear the evidence against Rankin. As early as May 2011, Denyakin's lawyers had disputed Rankin's claim that Denyakin had lunged at him, stating that with a BAC of 0.28%, three-and-a-half times the state threshold for driving under the influence of alcohol, Denyakin would not have been able to walk or talk straight, let alone lunge or fight. However, many who have significant experience in dealing with chemically impaired individuals, specifically those under the influence of alcohol can and do regularly engage in exactly the same activity Denyakin did, sometimes at even higher levels. This would be predicated on the individuals personal tolerance of the substance. Here it should be pointed out that even in light of the decedents weight it has been reported by his own former friends that he was a regular drinker with a high tolerance. This nullifies the plaintiffs argument that his BAC was too high to permit his reported actions and coordination. In court, they argued that Denyakin could not have had his hands in his pants as Rankin stated, because he had a bullet wounds on his hands but no holes in his jeans which in reality has no evidentiary value only inflammatory prejudice . Strangely there was never any inference given to the culpability of many of the decedents "friends" such as the outspoken "Donovan" who permitted Denyakin to become so inebriated that he allegedly required help, forced to walk home from his place of consumption, forced out of his claimed residence and left unattended after being forced into the cold that night for no other reason than his reported intoxicated status. In fact it was reported that he was forced out by the tenants of 454 Green St. simply because the female interest of the male occupant disagreed with Denyakins presence around her child while intoxicated. After hearing three days of testimony, the jury returned its verdict on March 3, 2012, finding that Rankin did not violate Denyakin's civil rights by using excessive force, did not act with gross negligence, and did not commit unprovoked assault and battery causing death. The verdict was received to no surprise negatively in Denyakin's native Kazakhstan, and roughly 20 activists held a demonstration outside the United States consulate in Almaty and submitted a letter of protest to a consular representative.
On April 2, 2012, Fletcher C. Alford of Dentons, the new lawyer for Denyakin's family, filed an appeal from the District Court decision in the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The appeal challenged the District Court's decisions on the admissibility and excludability of various unnamed items of evidence. By January 2013, the appeal had not yet been heard. In August 2013, lawyers announced that court dates for the appeal had been set to September 14–17. Denyakin's mother had not yet decided whether she would travel to the U.S. for the hearing again it can be inferred she feared arrest for her absconding from conditions of her release from jail. The case came before judges J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Diana Gribbon Motz, and Henry Franklin Floyd on September 18. The circuit judges affirmed the lower court's decision on December 2 in an unpublished opinion. Denyakin's family may seek a writ of certiorari to appeal to the Supreme Court, with the assistance of Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice; Yelena Denyakina was quoted by Novy Vestnik as stating that she "would like to go all the way to the end" with the case. Clearly the political will of certain Kazakhstan officials was disregarded in lieu of actual justice in this case. Technically the case reached "the end" on 12/02/13.
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- "Убийство гражданина Казахстана в Америке пока остается безнаказанным" [Killing of Kazakhstani citizen in America still without punishment]. Interfax Kazakhstan. 2013-08-07. Retrieved 2013-09-09.
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- "Johnson v. Rankin". 4th Cir. 2013-12-03.
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- "Дело об убийстве карагандинца Кирилла Денякина могут передать в верховный суд США" [Matter of slain Karaganda man Kirill Denyakin may be transferred to U.S. Supreme (unlikely) Court]. Novy Vestnik. 2013-12-11. Retrieved 2013-12-20.
- Court filings in the civil appeal, from Justia.com
- Audio recording of oral arguments in the civil appeal in MP3 format, from the website of the Fourth Circuit
- Remembering K., a blog post by Denyakin's friend Danny Donovan