Last July 19-year-old Sarah Wilson and her boyfriend were pulled over in a traffic stop. Police say they had been monitoring the pair, suspecting them of participating in drug dealing.
After pulling them over, two police officers approached the car from either side. Wilson was taken out of the passenger side and placed in handcuffs behind her back, however her boyfriend, Holden Medlin, was reportedly combative and drew the attention of both officers in order to subdue him.
At this point, the officers allege, Wilson — who was handcuffed behind her back — managed to retrieve a firearm from the vehicle, “contorted” herself and shot herself dead. A medical examiner later confirmed that Wilson was still handcuffed, but managed to inflict an “intra-oral” gunshot on herself. In other words, Wilson managed to shoot herself in the mouth despite having both hands restrained behind her back.
A spokesperson for the Chesapeake Police Department in Virginia publicly stated this account, adding that although one of the arresting officers was wearing a body-mounted camera during the traffic stop, it was allegedly knocked to the ground during the struggle with Medlin. In the process, it was explained, the camera was made to stop recording, failing to document Wilson’s death, though it was turned back on after the fact.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Dawn Wilson, Sarah Wilson’s mother, says. How did a young woman with her arms restrained behind her back not only retrieve a firearm but aim and fire it through the roof of her own mouth? Why did the only officer wearing a body-mounted camera conveniently have it deactivated at the most crucial moment?
Even if we are to assume this accounting is somehow accurate, which is quite a stretch, it speaks to an incredible degree of negligence. “Why is there no accountability for the situation? These procedures are in place so people are safe, the people on the street, the police, and the people in custody,” Wilson’s mother says.
In the months since Wilson’s death, the Chesapeake Police Department says it has conducted and concluded an internal investigation. Though they told Wilson’s family that they would likely be granted access to the results by March 8, they have yet to follow through on this promise.
So far, there is no indication any responsibility or repercussions were assigned to the officers involved as a result of the investigation.
Given the all too common instances of law enforcement officers facing no charges in blatantly wrongful death cases — and if they do, usually being cleared — it hardly comes as a surprise that the officers in this instance believe they can spin such an incredible tale and walk away unscathed.
Sarah Wilson’s family lawyer says they only learned that the internal investigation had been concluded after reading about it in local and national media — not from the city as promised. Given the mysterious nature of Wilson’s alleged suicide and the police department’s stunning lack of transparency and communication with her family, it is time federal authorities step in.
This article was originally published Care2.com on March 25, 2019.