Murder of Jiansheng Chen
|Date||January 26, 2017|
|Location||Chesapeake, Virginia, U.S.|
|Verdict||Guilty of second-degree murder and using a firearm to commit murder|
|Sentence||30 years in prison|
Jiansheng Chen, a 60-year-old grandfather, was shot dead by a security guard in Chesapeake, Virginia, in the night of January 26, 2017. Chen was playing the augmented reality mobile game, Pokémon Go, in a minivan at the community clubhouse's parking lot when the security guard, Johnathan Cromwell, shot 10 rounds, which 5 bullets hit the grandfather. He was a Chinese immigrant and spoke little English.
According to a notice given to the residents by River Walk community, the contract for the patrol services is for unarmed patrols.
After the shooting, River Walk Community Association suspended and then terminated their contract with the security company, Citywide Protection Services.
On February 6, 2017, Andrew M. Sacks, an attorney representing Citywide Protection Services, which employed the security guard who shot Chen, held a news conference. According to Sacks, Chen repeatedly attempted to hit the security guard with his blue minivan; in response, the security guard fired "in reasonable fear for his life and safety". The evidences also confirmed that the victim had been in the same place 10 days earlier, and, as specified by Sacks, was warned about the trespassing the private property and instructed not to return. More than 60 people protested in support of Chen outside Sacks' office in downtown Norfolk during the news conference.
It was reported that Chen played Pokémon Go "as a way to bond with his nieces, nephews and grandchildren." According to Greg Sandler, an attorney representing Chen's family, Chen was playing Pokémon Go at the time when he was shot. Police said the security guard fired through more than one of the van's windows. The security guard fired several shots through the side window and "then moved to the front of the van and fired through the windshield".
On February 14, 2017, 3 U.S. Representatives Donald McEachin (VA-04), Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Grace Meng (NY-06) issued a joint statement concerning the death of Jiansheng Chen. They said they "must know how a game of Pokémon Go turned into a fatal shooting."
On February 16, 2017, based on a news release from the Commonwealth's Attorney Nancy Parr, Johnathan Cromwell, the 21-year-old security guard of Virginia Beach was charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm. The news release also said Chen's van turned into the parking area of the River Walk clubhouse on January 26, 2017 around 11:00 p.m. Then "Mr. Cromwell confronted Mr. Chen by stopping his vehicle directly in front of Mr. Chen's. Mr. Chen backed up and turned his vehicle around to the point that it was at the entrance of the driveway facing River Walk Parkway when he was shot. Mr. Cromwell had exited his car and did say "stop" before he fired his weapon. Mr. Chen has gunshot entry wounds to his upper body area. The gunshot entry wounds are one (1) in his left upper arm and four (4) in his upper left chest."
According to the lawsuit, the security guard has a history of aggression who had "previously drawn and brandished his weapon toward unarmed residents and guests of the River Walk neighborhood." He would go beyond the boundaries of his duties and use excessive force, which resulted in a previous employer firing Cromwell.
The second-degree murder charge was upgraded to first-degree murder in July 2017. Following the attorney switch, a judge granted Cromwell a six-month continuance from his original trial date of September 26, 2017, WAVY-TV reported. Sacks said the trial was expected to begin on March 8, 2018 and to last five days.
On June 29, 2018, court records show the jury trial was scheduled for February 19, 2019. A homicide detective who investigated the shooting testified in court on February 21, 2019 that "Cromwell wanted to play a video of himself qualifying for a shooting certification, but the detective said he did not want to see it." Then, Cromwell continued to ask, "How was my grouping?" referring to the accuracy of shots he had fired at Chen. Cromwell reportedly appeared in court wearing headphones every day since he was having trouble hearing the proceedings, which implied excessive shooting that can cause ear damage.
On March 1, 2019, a jury found Johnathan Cromwell, 23, guilty of second-degree murder and using a firearm to commit murder. On June 24, 2019, a Judge sentenced Cromwell to 30 years in prison. Sacks said that they intend to appeal the conviction.
Chen's family has also filed a $5.35 million wrongful death lawsuit against Cromwell, his employer, Citywide Protection Services, and the River Walk Community Association in the Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
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