Va. officer's clearing won't clear the air

The Virginian-Pilot
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Finally, the worst night in the history of the Norfolk Police Department is over.

The absolution of Norfolk police Officer Gordon Barry for the accidental killing of plainclothes Officer Seneca Darden brings all of the official actions to a weary conclusion -- if not a sense of closure.

Too much went bad late on May 21 at Young Terrace for the last act to be anything but a parade of sorrow and regret.

The inquiries are over, but without someone to blame and hold responsible, the second-guessing will go on for years.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that an over-eagerness to help fellow officers hunting a gunman on the run, abetted by a sequence of small errors in judgment, put Darden in the wrong place at the wrong time, without anything readily identifying him as a police officer. Darden's partner also rushed to the scene.

Events carried Darden into the middle of a crowd that was agitated, loud and fearful from an earlier shooting in the neighborhood. The only saving grace for police is that no bystanders were killed when, during the climax, Barry shot Darden six times in the back and side on the fatal assumption that he was a thug ready to shoot officers trying to restore order.

That moment has cost the department three admirable officers: one dead, one dismissed and one forgiven -- at least officially.

Earlier this summer, Barry was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the State Police and Norfolk commonwealth's attorney. The last cloud shadowing him was lifted Tuesday by City Manager Regina Williams. She said the police Firearms Review Board had ruled that Barry had used deadly force exactly as he was trained to, thus warranting no disciplinary action. Pivotal in the decision was the testimony of an officer who knew Darden but, like Barry, also did not recognize him in the confusion and chaos.

As welcome as this must be for Barry, the vindication probably brings little solace or peace of mind. A police officer does not shoot a brother officer without suffering for the rest of his life.

For those who believe that Darden might still be alive if he were a white man, and not black, it will be hard to reconcile the truth with the law. Others will judge that the killing of a black officer by a white officer can be excused only by sinister means. In time, most people will see in the facts nothing more than tragic circumstances, and accept that Barry was an innocent casualty, too, of his oath and training.

Williams acknowledged she was getting pressure to hold someone responsible. "The easy approach would have been to find him guilty of something," Williams told staff writer Harry Minium. "You want to find a way for people to feel there was some kind of justice."

Sadly, too much went wrong at Young Terrace for anyone to expect such a tidy ending. 

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