Lawyer Says Vallejo Man Killed By Off-Duty Richmond Officer Was Shot in Back of the Head

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Mourners attend a recent vigil for Eric Reason in Vallejo. Reason was shot and killed by an off-duty Richmond police officer on Nov. 10, 2019. (Courtesy of Melissa Nold)

A lawyer representing the family of a man shot and killed in Vallejo by an off-duty Richmond police officer says the man, identified as 38-year-old Eric Reason, was shot in the back of the head while fleeing what started out as a verbal altercation in a parking lot.

Melissa Nold, a Vallejo-based civil rights attorney representing Reason’s family, said Reason was shot in his left forearm, the back of his shoulder and once in the back of his head. She said the bullet wound to the head aligns with witness accounts of Reason running away from the officer when he was shot.

"Mr. Reason was the one who appears to have been afraid for his life," Nold said.

Vallejo police say they responded to reports of a shooting at a shopping center on Fairgrounds Drive on the evening of Nov. 10. Police said Reason was engaging in a verbal altercation with Sgt. Virgil Thomas, an off-duty Richmond police officer, before retrieving a gun from his trunk.

“Reason armed himself with a handgun and approached Sgt. Thomas a second time,” Vallejo police said in a press release Monday. “Sgt. Thomas subsequently drew his weapon and fired at Reason in response to an observed threat.”

Sponsored

Police say Reason fled with the gun, raising it at some point.

“Sgt. Thomas believed that Reason still posed an immediate threat to the safety of Sgt. Thomas, his wife, who was a passenger in the vehicle, and other patrons of the shopping complex,” Vallejo police said. “Sgt. Thomas subsequently fired his weapon at Reason. Reason was pronounced deceased at the scene.”

Eric Reason (right) with his father, Eric Sr.

Thomas is a 27-year veteran of the Richmond Police Department and formerly served as president of the Richmond Police Officers Association. Richmond and Vallejo police have not responded to requests for comment.

Reason was a Vallejo native and father of seven who worked in construction. He was shot on his daughter’s birthday.

In a statement released the day after the shooting, Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association, said he was certain the investigation into the shooting would show Sgt. Thomas acted lawfully and in accordance with department policy.

"Unfortunately, when a police officer is confronted with a felon armed with a firearm, deadly force may be necessary," he said in the statement.

Police officers have some legal authority to shoot a fleeing felon under certain circumstances under case law. Nold said Reason had a criminal record, but that it was unclear whether Sgt. Thomas identified himself as an officer during the altercation.

"Eric was known to be afraid of the police growing up in Vallejo," Nold said. "Had he known the man was a police officer, this would have been a much different situation."

The shooting took place two days before Vallejo’s new police chief, Shawny Williams, was sworn in to lead the embattled police department.

Nold said the community is watching to see how the department handles the investigation into Reason’s shooting in light of criticism on social media of VPD’s handling of the investigation after photos surfaced allegedly showing Sgt. Thomas taking a photo or video over Reason’s body at the crime scene.

"You don’t get to use deadly force against a person that’s running away that isn’t actually imminently able to harm somebody — not as a police officer, and absolutely not as a private person,” said Nold.