Testimony at Thursday’s hearing didn’t match previous statements by police department.
RICHMOND- The stories don’t match up. On Thursday, Richmond police officers Moses Railey and Dominic Rivera painted a different picture than the official explanation of what happened to Orlando Carter Jr. on New Year’s Eve.
Around 5 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Richmond police pursued 27-year-old Orlando Carter Jr. after he ran a stop sign. In the parking lot of Oliver Crossing Apartments, Carter exited the car. Soon after, Richmond Police Officer Ja-Ontay Wilson shot Carter three times in the back.
Carter is now in a wheelchair due to his injuries sustained in the incident, including a broken leg. In addition, Carter faces multiple charges including possession of a firearm as a convicted felon and eluding police.
Thursday’s preliminary hearing did little to clear up the remaining questions surrounding the case. In fact, it created new ones.
What Led Up To The Shooting?
Richmond Police Officer Moses Railey testified Thursday that he was the one who originally tried to pull Carter over. Railey and his partner were patrolling downtown when they noticed Carter’s car passing by. It was the only car in the area with no lights on, Railey said. He thought that was strange since it was getting dark outside.
Beyond that, Railey said Carter was making “frantic movements” in the vehicle when they passed by. When asked what that meant, Railey said that Carter was “reaching down below his seat.”
As a result, the officers started to follow Carter. When he ignored a stop sign near 20th Street and Fairmont Avenue, Railey said they tried to pull him over. Instead of stopping, Railey said Carter sped up and the officers gave chase.
At this point, Richmond officer Dominic Rivera and his partner, Officer Ja-Ontay Wilson, responded to the scene. Rivera said on Thursday the chase lasted less than a mile, ending in the parking lot of Oliver Crossing Apartments. Wilson did not testify.
Rivera’s testimony differed from Railey’s on a few points. First, Rivera said the chase happened in daylight, not at a point when it was getting dark as Railey said. That matters because it’s normal not to have your headlights on while the sun is out.
Beyond that, Railey said Carter’s vehicle had stopped moving when he got out. Rivera said Carter had hopped out of the still moving car in the parking lot. This part also matters, as the official statement from Richmond Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Hollomon in January was that Carter broke his own leg jumping out of his still moving car.
What Caused The Injury?
Railey told the court he parked 20 feet behind Carter’s vehicle, which was sitting in the Oliver Courts parking lot. Rivera agreed, adding that he drove around Railey’s parked car and stopped right next to Carter’s vehicle, which he claimed was still moving.
At this point, Carter’s attorney Katherine Poindexter asked if Rivera stopped next to the car or did he hit it. Rivera admitted he wasn’t sure. Instead of breaking his leg while getting out of a moving car, Poindexter argued that Rivera caused Carter’s injury by hitting the car.
Regardless of how it happened, everyone agreed that Carter had a broken leg when he got out of the car. So how, Poindexter asked, was the court supposed to believe the police department’s statement and the testimony given by both officers that Carter “attempted to flee” on a broken leg?
“He was certainly not capable of running,” Poindexter pointed out.
And yet, the police statement on Dec. 31 and the followup statement Jan. 5 said that “Orlando Carter Jr., the sole occupant of the vehicle, exited the car with a firearm, attempted to flee and pointed a firearm at Officer Ja-Ontay Wilson.”
That part about pointing a gun would also come into question, as the court session continued.
Did Carter Display a Gun?
Since the beginning of the case, this has been the biggest point of contention. The department claims Carter had a gun in hand when he got out of the car and they specifically say he “pointed a firearm at Officer Ja-Ontay Wilson.”
But the testimony given Thursday brought that into question. Both Rivera and Railey said they never saw Carter actually holding a gun. In fact, Poindexter asked that specific question.
“He didn’t hold the gun?” she asked Rivera.
“No,” Rivera answered. “It fell out of his lap.”
Railey meanwhile said he simply heard metal hitting the ground. He never saw Carter try to pick anything up.
Despite being at the scene, neither officer saw the shooting. Rivera said he only heard the gun shots and saw Carter drop to the ground.
Both men said they reviewed their body cams before testifying, but that didn’t provide any extra insight. Dogwood filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get that body cam footage. The Richmond Police Department rejected those requests.
“The records you have requested are part of a criminal investigative file and an administrative investigation,” wrote William Shipman, the department’s Associate General Counsel. “As such, we will not release those records.”
Judge Sends Case to Grand Jury
Reviewing the testimony and evidence, Richmond General District Court Judge Mansi J. Shah said there was enough probable cause to send the case to a grand jury. Hollomon dropped all three traffic violations, however, leaving just the two felony charges.
However, before the hearing wrapped up, Holloman did ask the judge to send Carter back to jail. He called for Carter’s bail to be revoked, because the man tested positive for marijuana on Jan. 27.
“Court orders need to be taken seriously,” said Holloman.
Shah however pointed out that Virginia’s marijuana laws are changing. To save on resources, Shah decided it was not worth it to revoke Carter’s bond.
“I can’t look at this in a vacuum,” said Shah. “I have to look at changing laws.”
A grand jury will hear the case in April. Until then, Carter will still be attending physical therapy while he’s out on bond.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer at the Dogwood. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.