NORFOLK VA May 2 2017
A black Walmart security guard racially profiled a black Portsmouth man two years ago and ultimately caused his death at the hands of former Police Officer Stephen Rankin, according to a lawsuit filed by the man's mother.
The lawsuit, which seeks $31 million in damages and was filed without the assistance of an attorney, says that 18-year-old William Chapman II did nothing wrong in the store and that the guard called police for no reason.
But it is largely silent on one key fact: A Portsmouth police report obtained in November by The Virginian-Pilot says the security guard believed William Chapman II stole about $31 in clothing from the store on Frederick Boulevard – a gray T-shirt and a gray pair of pants.
Investigators later determined Chapman was wearing two pairs of pants when he was killed and had a new gray T-shirt bearing the likeness of Stewie from the TV show “Family Guy” in his backpack.
Sallie Chapman filed the lawsuit April 21 in Portsmouth Circuit Court, one day before the second anniversary of her son's death and about five months after the city agreed to pay the Chapman family a $1 million settlement.
Attorney Jon Babineau helped the family negotiate that deal, which was reached before any lawsuit was filed. He declined to comment on the Walmart suit, noting that he is not involved.
In a November interview, before the police report came to light, Babineau said he was researching what liability the retailer might face.
In court documents, an attorney for Walmart has denied responsibility for Chapman's death. Attorney Cameron Beck Jr. argued there was probable cause to believe that Chapman had shoplifted merchandise. He also noted that another person "over whom Walmart had no control" was responsible for his death, an apparent reference to Rankin.
"Walmart denies that it is indebted to the plaintiff in any manner for any amount," Beck wrote. He asked the court to order Sallie Chapman to pay the company back for having to respond to the lawsuit.
Earl Lewis, a cousin of William Chapman who has served as a spokesman for the family the past two years, did not immediately respond this morning to a request for comment.
Rankin, who is white, killed Chapman in the Walmart parking lot. The officer was indicted on murder charges, fired by the department and put on trial.
A jury convicted him Aug. 4 on one count of voluntary manslaughter before recommending he serve 2½ years in prison. He is now appealing the verdict.
According to court testimony, Rankin was investigating a shoplifting report when he approached Chapman. An altercation ensued, with some witnesses saying Chapman charged Rankin and another person – the security guard now at the center of the Walmart lawsuit – saying the 18-year-old merely jerked his shoulders forward.
According to the lawsuit, Chapman entered the store about 7:30 a.m.
It said store security started watching Chapman and then alleged that he put something inside his backpack while in the shoe department.
The lawsuit said Chapman continued to walk around the store before going into a restroom. A few minutes later, Chapman left the restroom, walked through the lawn and garden department and out of the building – past several employees and the security office.
"There was no evidence that William had actually stolen anything from Walmart," the lawsuit said.
Security guard Gregory Provo, a star witness at Rankin's trial whom the lawsuit repeatedly misidentified as "Provost," followed Chapman outside and called police.
The lawsuit claimed that is in violation of Walmart's security policy, but Beck disagreed.
"This is based upon a 'bad call' and racial profiling upon Mr. Chapman administered by Walmart's Security personnel," the lawsuit said.
It also said Provo should have intervened when he witnessed Rankin's "aggressiveness."
"There was no proof at this point that would have caused Walmart security to call the police at all," the lawsuit said. "William would be alive today if Walmart had not called the police to state that William was a possible shoplifter."
In an unusual move, the lawsuit went on to seek various pieces of information from Walmart, including Provo's training background, any video the store has of Chapman walking around the store and the SKU numbers that accompanied the bar codes for the allegedly stolen items.
Sallie Chapman received about $316,000 of the $1 million settlement negotiated by Babineau. Another $333,333 covered legal fees, and $150,000 went to Chapman's father. The rest was divided among seven of his siblings, with amounts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
Sallie Chapman didn't get to keep all of her portion, though. The deal required she use $46,700 to pay off debts.