A 22-year-old apartment complex security guard accused of fatally shooting a 60-year-old grandfather playing Pokémon Go in January is scheduled to appear again Tuesday in a Virginia courtroom.
About 10:30 p.m. Jan. 26 in Chesapeake, Jiansheng Chen, who had worked his adult life in the Chinese restaurant business, told his brother he was going out to play the GPS-based virtual reality game, NBC News reported.
Chen liked to play the game because his grandchildren, nieces and nephews played, too.
Chen’s brother tried to call him later and went out looking for him when he couldn’t reach him, the family’s attorney, Greg Sandler, told NBC in January.
He found, instead, the crime scene and his brother’s shot-up van.
Prosecutors say Chen was in the driveway of the Riverwalk Clubhouse parking area – less than a half mile from his home – about 11 that night.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, Johnathan Cromwell stopped his security vehicle “nose to nose” with the front of Chen’s van and shined a flashlight into the van.
Authorities say Chen backed up to leave and Cromwell got out of his car, shouting “stop” three times.
A hail of bullets followed, according to prosecutors. Cromwell allegedly fired through the driver’s side window and then, walking around to the front of Chen’s van, fired seven more times.
Chen was struck four times in the upper left chest and once in the upper left arm, the newspaper reported.
Prosecutors say Cromwell asked a detective after the shooting how the “grouping” on his shots looked.
Chen’s family suggested there might have been a communication issue because Chen did not speak English well.
Family attorney Sandler at the time called the circumstances “so egregious that no one can understand how this happened.”
Days after the shooting, members of Virginia’s congressional delegation issued a statement saying they were concerned about the “manner and circumstances” of Chen’s death, according to WHSV in Harrisonburg, Va.
The case sparked protests on behalf of the Chen family, with supporters carrying signs reading “Justice for Grandpa Chen,” his nickname now on social media. Thousands of people signed online petitions calling for justice.
Attorneys for Cromwell, and those representing his employer, Citywide Protection Services, contend he acted in self-defense, that he “feared for his life” and that Chen tried to run him down with his van.
At a press conference in February, an attorney for Citywide Protection read a statement indicating that security guards with the company had had run-ins with Chen’s family at the apartment complex since July 2015 that included notices for being in “prohibited” areas after hours.
The company’s attorney, Andrew Sacks, said that on the night of the shooting one of the company’s guards found a family member walking through private yards, though he did not say it was Chen.
Later, Cromwell saw the van in a “previously barred area” and went to ask the driver why he’d come back, Sacks said.
Sacks claimed Chen refused Cromwell’s “lawful commands” and repeatedly tried to hit the guard with his van. That’s when Cromwell took out his gun, Sacks said.
He fired “in reasonable fear for his life and safety,” said Sacks, noting that Cromwell was wearing a “proper” uniform displaying a badge at the time.
Police told the Virginian-Pilot that nothing in the police report indicated Chen had a weapon.
“They did not explain why anyone believes they have the right to use deadly force to prevent a trespass,” Sandler told the newspaper of the security company’s version of that night.
“Wearing a coat with an insignia in a badge one can purchase at a dime store, does not elevate one to the level of a skilled and trained police officer and gives one no higher right to detain, inquire, investigate or kill someone in an ordinary citizen.”
Cromwell, who was 21 at the time of the shooting, is charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm.
His scheduled appearance in court on Tuesday will be his first since he was assigned a public defender after his previous lawyer asked to be removed from the case citing a deteriorating level of trust and lack of communication, according to WVEC in Hampton, Va.