Despite the many details that have emerged since 60-year-old Jiansheng Chen was shot and killed by a security guard last month, one remains unclear.
Was the guard allowed to carry a gun that night, or not?
Representatives for the River Walk Community Association and the Chesapeake-based company hired to patrol the River Walk neighborhood – where Chen’s family say he was shot while playing “Pokémon Go” – tell different stories.
The association says its contract called specifically for unarmed guards, while the company says it allowed for guns.
Both repeatedly declined to provide a copy to the Pilot.
Johnathan Cromwell of Virginia Beach has now been charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the Jan. 26 killing. His attorney, Emily Munn, said in an email she had not seen the contract but that her client “absolutely believed he was allowed to carry a weapon as part of his employment.”
Since November Cromwell has worked for Citywide Protection Services, which the community association hired to patrol common areas – namely a boat ramp and the clubhouse near where the shooting took place.
The association’s board immediately said – and still insists – that its contract, signed in 2010 with “no modifications or alterations” since, contains a “specific section” calling for unarmed and uniformed security. The contract was suspended after the shooting.
But Andrew Sacks, an attorney for Citywide, maintained Monday “there’s no doubt” guards were allowed to carry arms under the contract.
“I can’t be more emphatic. … (The contract) clearly includes a provision for armed services,” he said. It “gives the company the discretion for what they deem is necessary under the circumstances.”
Sacks also said Monday that Cromwell is still a company employee. He is registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services as an armed and unarmed security officer, according to the department’s online database, and endorsed for using a handgun and shotgun.
Virginia is one of a handful of states that give private security guards – “officers” under state code – the power to arrest citizens.
An unarmed guard must complete 18 hours of training within 90 days of hire at a security company. An additional up to 35 hours is required for armed guards, who have arresting power.
Daitwan Hardy, CEO of Security Contracting, a North Carolina-based company with an office in Chesapeake, said in the private security world, all the details are contract and site-specific.
“It all depends on the contract itself,” he said.
Hardy said it would be a huge waste of money to send an armed guard to an area that calls for unarmed security, as they cost a lot more. Security Contracting rarely does that for new hires.
Low-income neighborhoods often prefer armed guards, while wealthier ones tend to ask for unarmed, he said.
It’s illegal in Virginia for a guard hired for an unarmed site to show up with a firearm, even if coming from an armed site. Justin Moss, president of Talon Security Services in Chesapeake, said that includes even having a gun in the car.
“You cannot have access to a firearm” while there, he said. “It can’t be on site at all.”
But it happens, he said: Not all companies are vigilant about checking their guards’ practices, and not all guards find time to make a stop in between sites.
Christopher Zombar, Talon’s vice president, said he prefers his officers work through the ranks, starting as unarmed and working their way to being armed supervisors.
“There’s usually something in their background before we let them just put a weapon on,” Moss said. He added that he thinks River Walk would be a difficult place to patrol because of its size and makeup, which includes a variety of adjacent communities and “not that many common areas.”
Zach Mitcher, who grew up in River Walk, said he remembers seeing armed guards there for as long as he can remember. He said the guards often chased teenagers away from late-night hangouts at the community boat ramp.
“I always thought they were supposed to be armed,” Mitcher said. “They weren’t trying to hide it.”
On Jan. 26 around 11 p.m., Chen, who lived about a half-mile away, pulled his van into the driveway of the River Walk clubhouse, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Nancy Parr.
Cromwell confronted Chen by stopping his car directly in front of Chen’s van, and Chen backed up and turned around, Parr said in a news release.
Cromwell exited his car and said “stop” before he fired, according to the release. Chen was shot five times: four times in the upper left chest and once in the upper left arm.
The company “continues to believe” Cromwell shot in self-defense, Sacks said Monday.
Parr declined to discuss whether Cromwell was allowed to be armed or other details of the case, citing the Virginia State Bar’s rules of professional conduct.
“This case will be tried in the courtroom and not in the media,” Parr wrote in an email. “All parties will receive a fair and impartial trial.”
A bond hearing is set for Thursday and preliminary hearing for April 26.
Pilot writer Margaret Matray contributed to this report.