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Facebook posts should spell the end for police officer

Posted to: Opinion Portsmouth Roger Chesley

Roger Chesley

Local columnist for The Virginian-Pilot

We hold people in some occupations to higher standards.

Elected officials, for one. Doctors, too.

And police officers.

These individuals hold immense power over the rest of us. We expect them to abide by strict ethics and to use discretion in their professional and personal lives.

That's why the Internet musings of Portsmouth police Officer Stephen D. Rankin are so troubling - and so damaging to the department. The "D" stood for "Danger" on his Facebook page, which apparently has been shut down.

Rankin is the 3-1/2-year veteran who fatally shot a drunken, unarmed man last month in Olde Towne. Rankin had gone to the scene after police got a 911 call about someone trying to break into an apartment building. He fired after Kirill Denyakin put his hands around his waistband and reportedly charged at the officer.

Denyakin's autopsy shows that he was shot 11 times and that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.28.

The Portsmouth Police Department took the rare step of asking an outside agency - the Virginia State Police - to lead the investigation.

No one should jump to conclusions. Rankin had split seconds to decide whether to fire or to expose himself to greater danger. It's not an easy call.

His Facebook postings, however, call into question his judgment; his racial sensitivity; and whether he was someone too eager to pull the trigger.

One post includes an image of a man being lynched with the words, "Love is... Doing whatever is necessary." Because of the horrible history of lynchings in this country, which primarily targeted blacks and occurred mainly in the South, the scene is shocking.

In another image, a post shows the song title: "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?"

Such images on other Facebook pages could be shrugged off. Rankin's can't. After he shot someone, it was inevitable those posts would be scrutinized.

The department has a four-page general order, effective April 2010, on social networking. It includes statements that employees "use appropriate discretion so as not to discredit the Department or themselves" and that "Employees are prohibited from posting content that is inconsistent with your duties and obligations as a Portsmouth Police officer. For example, racist or sexist comments... "

Many of Rankin's images were posted before the directive; still, people could see them after that time.

A department spokesman told me Tuesday that discipline for violating the general order could include a warning, all the way up to termination. Hargis has acknowledged an internal investigation on whether Rankin violated policy.

Rankin's attorney, Ali Sprinkle, said Tuesday that she was unaware of any investigation because of the Facebook posts. She declined to comment about their relevance to the shooting.

Even if he's cleared in the shooting, Rankin can't remain on the force.

What would happen if he pulls someone over and an "incident" erupts? The city would expose itself to greater legal liability.

It wasn't smart for Rankin to make those comments online.

It would be even dumber for the department to keep him.

Roger Chesley, (757) 446-2329, roger.chesley@pilotonline.com, pilotonline.com/chesley

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I agree with one of the other posters

and think there was nothing racial about the picture posted by the officer unlike what the article writer would like us to think/implies.

the news is hideing the facts AGAIN

just wanted to note, the last few articles have made sure to repeat several times the man was drunk and unarmed. they have neglected to note that the call was for a burglary in progress (a felony) and he was the suspect when the officer stopped him in the process. they have continued to delve into the officers personal affairs, but we have seen nothing of the personal affairs of the other side.
Sir, i ask you directly, is there a reason we can see the officers personal life but not the subjects? there have been accusations that the subject had been in trouble with the law before but no reporting on it. can we get a fair report eventually?

for what it's worth

I did a search of Circuit and General District Court for Portsmouth and Chesapeake and could not find Mr. Denyakins name.

Part 2

, rather, just describing his initial reactions to various details like the Facebook image. In response to the article's original subject, the officer's reaction, it is a tough situation to be in. Until all details are exposed, it's alwasy easy to make assumptions. I feel that the officer acted grossly inappropriate, especially given the handicap that he supposedly has proper training on the various methods to diffuse multiple types of volatile situations. Lethal force is supposed to be the last action with CQC/taser/extendable/shooting-out-the-legs as being other quick, non-lethal actions the officer could take. Another question I have is how did this officer initiate contact with the victim? Was he aggro-aggressive while cursing at him, alrea

thank you sir

While i adamantly support the officer, and sympathize with the position he was put in during and after, your post is wise, well thought out, and well written. thank you for stating your opinion in a fair manor as opposed to some who are being fairly unreasonable. i respectfully disagree, and i feel the writer is projecting a little, as though this were an inkblot, the first thing he sees is racism. note he doesnt mention the race of either party involved. lethal force is a last resort, however the officer can go immediately to it without attempting other means if that is appropriate to the threat, ie: an active shooter situation; suspect charging with an edged weapon.

ran out of room

shooting to wound, ie: the legs or hands has been proven near impossible under the kind of stress and time constraint faced in a defensive shooting. the officer perceived a deadly threat (part of the investigation will be to determine if it was reasonable to perceive that threat), if he had responded with less lethal means, he continues to put himself in danger. it is a common occurrence that a taser will have 1 of the probes miss, and not disable the threat. if he had used a baton or empty handed techniques against a man with a knife, he surely would have been injured, weather he won the fight or not. if the officer perceived this threat, lethal force is the appropriate response. the question is, was it reasonable for him to perceive this.

not trying to drag this out but...

you seem like a reasonable person so i wanted to state my side clearly. here is an excellent video showing how quick and devastating a knife attack can be, and how quickly a concealed knife can be produced from the waistband. every person attacked was seriously injured, even ones that were attacked so quickly you almost cant see the injury. the video suggests that the best defense is to close with the attacker and try to grab the knife, however i dont think this is the best option, personally i would try to disable the threat before it got to me, as the officer did.
ps, if anybody has a weak stomach in respect to violence, you may not want to watch the video

A matter of translation

I don't feel the columnist is calling the officer a racist.  Images, music, anything is always a matter of interpretation.  When I first saw that image, I immediately thought of an individual being lynched as well.  And it appears that the columnist parlayed why the image to him was "shocking" by giving the briefest synopsis of why.  Besides, we live in the South and no other aspect of American history has used lynching more than the Southern states.  The caption, to me, further supports the notion to kill/maim/murder in the name of love.  If anything I loved was threatened, I would do my best to protect that 'love.'
The columnist has made no direct statements to the character of the officer


I too google searched the image and found that FB group and also the same image used as a header for a poem about a flashback, and a story (that I had to translate) about broken love. I have no where found this image when I searched lynching photographs. In fact my first thought when seeing the image was that it was sad that the fellow probably thought this was what he needed to do for love. It never occured to me that this was a lynching or hateful act of anykind. An officer of 3 1/2 years has made plenty of arrests without "incident" why would it all of a sudden change because he has this shirt?

it cut me off

somethings wrong with the website, but heres the second half of my comment:


http://www.facebook.com/pages/Love-is-doing-whatever-is-necessary/108017832571051 which bases itself on that image, and mentions nothing about race. Calling this officer a racist without any basis for your accusations sir is inflammatory hate speech.
If the officer is to be condemned for some thoughtless facebook remarks, you sir should be as well. Next time do some research and don’t make assumptions because you see what you want to see.

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