What really happened?
New details change initial police report of Mosby Court events surrounding special agent’s death
Jeremy Lazarus | 6/9/2017, 12:01 p.m.
Travis A. Ball initially was portrayed as a depraved killer who fatally shot Virginia State Police Special Agent Michael T. Walter in the head without provocation.
That portrayal, built on an early statement from Virginia State Police following the May 26 shooting, was repeated in media reports following the death of Special Agent Walter, a respected officer who, on his own time, created and led a nonprofit wrestling program for youths in Powhatan County where he lived.
But in the days since the shooting, new details make the case more complex than the early, simplistic tale that a black man shot a white cop for no reason.
Questions are mounting over whether overly aggressive officers — sent in with orders to do what they could to crack down on violence plaguing the Mosby Court public housing complex — might have set off a deadly chain of events.
As the investigation continues, many of the details have yet to emerge and may not be released before evidence is presented in court.
Still, based on information in a search warrant issued June 1, a video that a bystander took at the scene and other reports, authorities presented to the public an inaccurate picture of what happened, including their portrayal of Mr. Ball.
For five days, State Police and other authorities publicly maintained that Agent Walter and his partner, Richmond Police Officer Chris Duane, noticed a car pull up to the curb in the 1900 block of Redd Street “and park the wrong way.”
“The police officer and the special agent walked up to the car and struck up a conversation with the driver as part of a consensual encounter. During the course of the encounter, the special agent was shot by the passenger, who fled,” according to an official State Police statement released after the shooting.
At the scene, authorities told reporters that the shooting occurred within moments of the officers approaching the car.
But State Police officials began backpedaling on Thursday, June 1, particularly after a search warrant filed in Richmond Circuit Court that day told a different story.
The warrant confirmed the buzz on the street that the car was parked legally — not in the wrong direction — and that the driver and passenger were inside, simply talking with each other.
While no one is condoning the shooting, it is unclear whether the officers had a reasonable suspicion, as the law requires, that the men stopped in front of an apartment unit in Mosby Court were doing something wrong.
Only later would it be learned that Mr. Ball was illegally living with his girlfriend in an apartment in that block. The woman and her five children are now being evicted for violating the lease by allowing a convicted felon to live with them, according to the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
According to the search warrant, the still publicly unidentified driver told police that the shooting did not happen in a flash, but resulted after a “scuffle between (Mr. Ball) and the special agent” that lasted a minute or more, and that he saw “a gun in Mr. Ball’s hand near the agent’s head” before he heard the shot.
State Police later confirmed that the shooting happened at least two minutes after the officers approached the car, Officer Duane on the driver’s side and Agent Walter on the passenger side.
In the wake of his arrest, reports surfaced that Mr. Ball was barred from having a gun as a convicted felon, although the conviction for which he served time was for unauthorized use of an automobile, rather than a crime of violence.
It also has been learned in the days since the shooting that Mr. Ball was wanted by authorities on two outstanding warrants, one for allegedly failing to pay child support and another for misdemeanor assault on a 14-year-old girl.
According to reports, Mr. Ball was banned from Mosby Court and other public housing property managed by the RRHA.
Among the unanswered questions is whether either law enforcement officer was familiar with the driver or Mr. Ball, or aware of the ban or outstanding warrants.
Officials also haven’t said what raised the officers’ suspicions to approach the car.