Prosecutors: Newport News police officer charged with murder should be jailed as he awaits trial

Peter Dujardin, The Daily Press
·4 min read

Prosecutors are asking a judge to revoke the bond for a Newport News police officer who is charged with murder, contending he should be jailed as he awaits trial.

The motion in the case of police Sgt. Albin T. Pearson was filed early this month under seal, meaning the entire 91-page filing — including why the request was being made — is not publicly available.

Pearson — who has been out on bond since November — is slated to go to trial in October in the killing of 43-year-old Henry Kistler Berry III. Berry was shot in his Oyster Point home on Dec. 27, 2019, after four officers went there to arrest him on a misdemeanor count of abusing the city’s 911 system.

The motion to revoke Pearson’s bond comes three months after a Circuit Court judge granted prosecutors full access to the officer’s personnel files, including past use-of-force complaints against him.

The prosecutor who filed the bond revocation motion, Suffolk Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Brandon T. Wrobleski, declined Wednesday to talk about the filing.

“The documents attached to the motion and referenced in the motion are under seal,” he said.

On March 10, eight days after the prosecution’s request, Pearson’s lawyers filed a response — also under seal. Pearson’s lead attorney, Timothy Clancy, declined to comment Wednesday.

A motion to revoke a bond — even if it pertains to sealed documents — nearly always leads to a hearing in open court within weeks of the request. At those hearings, a judge hears arguments from both sides and decides whether to revoke the bond. But no hearing date is listed on the court’s docket at Newport News Circuit Court, and it wasn’t clear if one has been scheduled.

Newport News police have said that Pearson — a 12-year department veteran — shot Berry during a struggle over a Taser inside Berry’s townhouse off Pilot House Drive.

The two special prosecutors from Suffolk — handling the case after Newport News prosecutors recused themselves — contend that the officers illegally barged into Berry’s home without a warrant after Berry made a series of 911 calls looking into the whereabouts of his 9-year-old son.

Once inside the home, prosecutors contend, Pearson grabbed Berry and pushed him into a wall. When Berry resisted and argued with the officers, they said, Officer Dwight A. Pitterson Tasered him at close range.

That led to an intense struggle, with highly electrified prongs swinging between Berry and the four officers. Pearson — who was struck in the knee by a Taser — was shocked by the prongs “for several seconds.”

“Immediately, Sgt. Pearson took out his gun and shot Mr. Berry once in the back,” a probable cause statement said. “The single gunshot went through Mr. Berry’s heart and killed him.”

Pearson is charged with second-degree murder, two gun charges, wounding in the commission of a felony, assault and battery, and entering a home against another’s property rights. Pitterson is charged with malicious wounding, wounding in the commission of a felony, assault and battery and entering a home against another’s property rights.

At the Nov. 13 bond hearing, Circuit Court Judge Margaret Poles Spencer — the retired Richmond judge assigned to the case — set bonds at $200,000 for Pearson and $75,000 for Pitterson. She ordered the officers to turn in their guns, have no guns in the house, be under house arrest and have no contact with each other or prosecution witnesses. There’s no indication that either defendant has violated any of those conditions.

A few weeks later, prosecutors asked Spencer to order that the city of Newport News grant them full access to the officers’ personnel files. That included, among other things, past use-of-force complaints against them.

Pearson’s and Pitterson’s lawyers objected to the records being turned over, contending the prosecutors were on a fishing expedition to cast their clients in a bad light. (The city also objected to the request as being harmful to their internal affairs investigations process.)

Spencer sided with prosecutors.

She ordered that the records be filed under seal at Newport News Circuit Court, and that lawyers from both sides could go to courthouse to review them. On Dec. 16, the docket shows, the city filed about 650 pages under seal in Pearson’s case, and another 320 or so pages under seal in Pitterson’s case.

Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, pdujardin@dailypress.com