A Norfolk police officer who shot and killed a mentally ill man in January 2020 while off duty was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter Thursday after a previous mistrial in the case.
The Chesapeake jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning a not guilty verdict in the retrial of Edmund “Ryan” Hoyt, 36, a patrol officer with the Norfolk Police Department.
While the Chesapeake Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney argued Hoyt’s actions escalated the situation, the defense claimed Hoyt acted in self-defense when he fatally shot 42-year-old Kelvin White near a Chesapeake grocery store.
The shooting happened on the afternoon of Jan. 19, 2020. Hoyt told jurors he drove toward the store and confronted White after his wife called and said a man was threatening her and their two young daughters. The officer was off duty at home when his wife called.
Mario Lorello, Hoyt’s defense attorney, said the shooting was “always a clear case of self-defense and defense of a family.”
“The jury saw the case and the evidence for what it was: a husband and a father rushing out to his terrified wife just around the corner after a man approached her and her children and threatened to stab her in the face,” Lorello said.
Hoyt said he opened fire after White tried to stab him. At the time of the shooting, White was wearing a backpack full of thick books tied together on his chest — a detective described it as a type of homemade body armor.
White lived near the Food Lion grocery store on Bainbridge Boulevard where the incident happened. He had a long history of mental health problems, including a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, according to testimony.
White’s brother, Gerard White, told The Virginian-Pilot his family is heartbroken by the outcome of the trial, which he said he believes was “racially biased.”
“This was not justice. It was clearly murder,” Gerard White said. “This is just another white male who got off scot-free for killing a Black man.”
This is the second time Hoyt’s case has been brought before a jury. The first, in August, was declared a mistrial after roughly nine hours of deliberations resulted in “an impasse.”
Hoyt testified in his own defense during both trials, describing the moments before and after the fatal shooting.
When Hoyt’s wife called him, he said he thought he heard her say that a man had stabbed her in the face as she walked to the store with the couple’s two daughters. The officer got into his pickup truck and raced over, locating his family and White — 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds — in an area not far from the store.
Hoyt said he told White he was an off-duty officer and drew his gun. When White refused to get on the ground, Hoyt — 5-7 and 150 pounds — said he re-holstered his gun and tried to get the much larger man on the ground. He drew his gun again after White scratched his face and pulled a knife, he said.
Hoyt said he fired several times, eventually striking White twice in the side and once in the back. White was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later. When investigators checked his backpack, they found five of the shots hit the books but only penetrated the first two in the stack.
“In my eyes, the family and friend’s eyes, he will always be a murderer that was set free based on his race and because he is a police officer,” Gerard White said of Hoyt.
But Hoyt’s defense attorney said the off-duty officer “acted reasonably” as Kelvin White — armed with multiple blades and wearing a homemade bullet proof vest — attempted to stab him.
“The jury’s unanimous verdict recognized that Mr. Hoyt had a right to defend both his family and himself in the face of this very real danger,” Lorello said.
Staff reporter Jane Harper contributed to this report.
Caitlyn Burchett, email@example.com