Xzavier Hill’s case highlights need for updated equipment, oversight.
CHESTERFIELD – Just release the tapes. That’s all LaToya Benton is asking for. It’s been nearly one month since Xzavier Hill’s death and his family still haven’t received any information. Virginia State Police officers shot and killed the Black teen after an alleged high speed chase on Jan. 9. Since then, people from across the Commonwealth have asked VSP officials to release the dash cam footage from that night and prove what happened.
Virginia State Police claim Hill had a gun and was aiming it at officers, which is why they opened fire. But that argument has some holes. First, family members say Hill didn’t own a gun. Second, they question how a left-handed man supposedly opened the driver’s side car door and got out, while holding a gun.
Police showed Hill’s mother, LaToya Benton, the dash cam footage of her son’s death, even though they won’t release it to the public. Benton says her 18-year-old son’s hands were empty when he was killed by the police.
On Thursday, several dozen people came out to support Hill’s family, decked out in shirts reading #JusticeforXzavier. Many came carrying with pots and pans, banging them together while chanting for justice.
“This is my son,” said Benton, holding up a sign with a picture of her dead child on it to VSP officers. “That was my son you killed.”
Several Black Lives Matter activists also joined the family at the VSP headquarters in Chesterfield. They were marching to get some answers from the police face-to-face, but were disappointed once again by their refusal to release the tapes.
No Justice For Xzavier, No Peace for Police
So far, there have been five demonstrations held in Hill’s honor. At these demonstrations, racial justice advocates and people from Black Lives Matter chapters from across the state have joined together in support of Hill’s family.
At the demonstration Thursday, some protesters, including activist Cameron Bertrand came a long way to support LaToya and the rest of Hill’s family. Though he lives in Newport News, Bertrand says he’s been attending as many protests for justice in Hill’s case as she can.
“We will continue to fight for justice for Xzavier Hill,” said Bertrand. “Xzavier Hill should still be here. We have so many battles to fight and we are early in the journey. ”
These demonstrations aren’t isolated to Virginia either. Last week there was even a protest all the way in New York in Times Square. But with every protest, the goal has been the same – to get the VSP to release the tapes of Hill’s death.
There’s no actual law requiring the Virginia State Police to release the footage. Virginia is one of 17 states that doesn’t require its state law enforcement to release footage captured by police. VSP spokesperson Corrine Geller says they’ll release the material after the investigation concludes. One month in and it’s still unclear when that will be.
After demonstrators passed the open gate surrounding the headquarters Thursday, four police officers came to block the entrance to the building from the inside.
Eventually, an officer came out and said that Hill’s mother, aunt and two other demonstrators could go inside and speak with VSP officers about the tape.
“There’s Nothing We Can Do.”
During the protest, Xzavier’s mother, LaToya Benton, and his aunt asked an unnamed officer multiple times whether or not VSP are conducting an internal investigation of the shooting.
“Is Virginia State police investigating themselves?” asked Benton. “Is VSP investigating VSP?”
The officer told Benton that Hill’s case is currently being investigated by the Commonwealth’s Attorney and state police don’t currently have the tape in their possession. The officer left before Dogwood reporters could ask for his name.
That’s the same thing state police told Benton and her sister, LaTonya Snow, inside the headquarters. Snow, Benton, Bertrand and another organizer talked to law enforcement about the tapes for about 10 to 15 minutes.
“They claim they don’t have a copy of the tape,” said Snow. “That was it. Then they asked us not to block the entrance. And of course, they said that they’re not investigating their own employees.”
According to Snow, the officer they spoke with could offer no further steps or alternative measures that the family could take in order to get the tapes released faster. Snow said that the officer didn’t offer his name when they spoke inside.
Bertrand also said that the officer told him that there was nothing that state police could do to get the tape.
“They said it was out of their hands. They said that it was no longer a private investigation and it was a public investigation,” he said. “And this is ultimately the biggest issue. That they have the power to take a life but not the power to help one.”
Would Body Cameras Have Helped Xzavier Hill’s Case?
Since neither officers were wearing body-cameras when they shot Hill, the only footage of the incident is from the police vehicle’s dash camera. Advocates are demanding that state police officers be required to wear body cameras, in order to increase accountability.
“They don’t wear body cams because that would cost more money,” he said. “And it would be more training they don’t want to go through.”
Virginia law enforcement are not known for their transparency. That’s because Virginia’s body worn camera policies differ from department to department, and they’re not all required to wear body cameras at all. That may be because some law enforcement agencies in the Commonwealth don’t have the finances to invest in body worn cameras.
In order to remedy this issue, Sen. Bryce Reeves (R – Fredericksburg) introduced Senate Bill 1119 to the General Assembly this session. If passed, the bill would create a body worn camera fund to help offset the cost of purchasing, operating, or maintaining body worn cameras. This legislation would apply to both state and local level law enforcement agencies.
The bill has already passed the Senate 39-0. In the House, it’s been referred to the Committee on Public Safety.
How You Can Help the Movement for Xzavier
Despite once again receiving no help from VSP, the family plans to keep pushing forward until they release the tapes. While at the protest, Bertrand urged other demonstrators to persevere alongside them.
“This is part of the work right here,” said Bertrand. “This protest, coming out here in numbers, is part of the work. But everything we’re speaking on right now, when we go home, we have to continue to be on the phone. We have to continue to keep contacting our state legislators and letting them know that [VSP] are not doing their jobs.”
The Goochland Commonwealth’s Attorney is named Michael Caudill. Last month, Caudill told ABC8 that he will not be releasing the dash cam footage until the investigation is complete.
Advocates are encouraging supporters to call Caudill directly and demand the public release of the tapes in Hill’s case. Caudill’s phone number is 804-556-5345.
If you’re interested in supporting Hill’s cause in other ways, his family has a Change.org petition calling for the release of the dash cam footage. It’s currently only 10,000 signatures away from its goal of 35,000. You can also donate to the families’ cash app at $crystalcleannva. If you want more information on future protests, follow @aqueensworld on Instagram.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer with the Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].