The police officer who shot an unarmed cook last month in Olde Towne, prompting an investigation by state police and outrage in the man’s native Kazakhstan, is also under investigation for Facebook postings. One includes an image of a lynching. Another post displays a punk band’s song title: “Mommy Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?”
Police Chief Ed Hargis declined to comment on the Facebook content of Officer Stephen D. Rankin, but he acknowledged an internal investigation on whether the officer violated departmental policy.
Rankin also is on administrative leave during the state police investigation of the April 23 shooting death of Kirill Denyakin, 26, outside an apartment building on Green Street.
An image dated February 2010 that Rankin used as a Facebook profile picture shows a man hanging from a pole with the slogan “Love is … Doing whatever is necessary.”
Another profile image added July 2009 was a logo from the punk band the Misfits referencing the song about killing. A photo uploaded in November 2009 showed a picture of several handguns and cleaning apparatus.
In comments on the photo, Rankin wrote, “That’s rankins box of VENGEANCE!” and “would be better if i was dirtying them instead of cleaning them!”
Earlier this month, The Virginian-Pilot made screen shots of some of Rankin’s Facebook postings after a newspaper employee logged on to Facebook. As of Friday, his Facebook page could not be found. Rankin’s attorney, Ali Sprinkle, said there would be no comment.
Portsmouth police have a four-page policy, in place since April 2010, on the use of social networking sites by employees. It says officers should not post, transmit or disseminate content to the Internet or any public or private forum “that would tend to discredit or reflect unfavorably upon the Department or any of the Department’s employees.”
It also says posts by officers on such sites are under increased scrutiny by lawyers and “we strongly discourage you from posting information regarding off-duty activity that may tend to bring your reputation into question, even if taken out of context. Attorneys can use such information for impeachment purposes.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends that departments have such policies. Association President Mark Marshall, who is the police chief in Smithfield, was quoted in a New York Times article on the topic in April: “This is something that all the police chiefs around the country, if you’re not dealing with it, you better deal with it.”
The shooting has made headlines in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic.
According to a news story posted on the embassy’s website, about 20 Kazakh youths picketed the U.S. Consulate in the city of Almaty on Monday and presented a letter addressed to President Barack Obama asking to make “the policeman who killed Denyakin accountable for the murder.” The letter says he was hit 11 times.
Although an internal investigation was launched – which is standard for law-enforcement agencies in Hampton Roads – it was turned over to Virginia State Police after Hargis met with Commonwealth’s Attorney Earle C. Mobley. The decision was announced May 3.
Denyakin was a cook at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel; friends said he had been living here for about two years and that he regularly sent money home.
He was shot the night of Saturday, April 23, outside the building in the 400 block of Green St. where he had been living with a friend for several months.
The friend, Maurice Wilson, said Denyakin was so intoxicated he could barely walk. Wilson, who was working that night, said he left Denyakin lying on a step down the street from the building and told him to sober up. When Denyakin began banging loudly on a glass door to the foyer, Wilson’s wife apparently complained to a neighbor inside and the neighbor called 911 around 10:12 p.m.
The neighbor reported that a man was trying to break the glass and get in and told the dispatcher she did not know him. When Rankin – an officer in Portsmouth for 3½ years – arrived after being dispatched to an emergency burglary in progress, he confronted Denyakin in a courtyard of the complex and gave him commands, police said.
A police statement said Denyakin did not comply, “then made furtive movements with his hands, at the same time, lunging towards the Officer.”
Hargis later said in a news conference that a preliminary investigation showed Denyakin placed his hands at his waistband and charged toward the officer, who retreated and fired.
Patrick Wilson, (757) 222-3893, email@example.com