RICHMOND — A Charlottesville teen’s mother who was allowed to view a police video of her son’s fatal shooting on Interstate 64 by two state troopers says she didn’t see a gun in his hand, and that the teen placed his left hand outside his car window before he was shot.
During an impromptu news conference called Saturday by the family of Xzavier Hill, the 18-year-old’s mother disputed much of the police version of events that left her son dead on Jan. 9, following what police said was a high-speed chase in the westbound lanes of the interstate.
“I saw what I saw, and they killed my son,” LaToya Benton said. “I’m not wrong.”
Benton and other family members were allowed by Goochland County Commonwealth’s Attorney D. Michael Caudill to view the dashboard camera video Wednesday in his office. Caudill, who ultimately will decide whether the troopers will face any criminal liability in the shooting, said the family deserved to see it but he did not provide them with a copy.
Benton, who at times was overcome with emotion and anger, said the police video showed Xzavier reach out of his driver’s side window with his left hand — he’s left-handed, she said — after apparently being commanded by the troopers to show his hands.
“He reached out [and] he got shot in his left hand,” Benton said. “He was out of the car with his left hand and he turned his body around like this” in an apparent attempt to place his other hand outside the window.
“Xzavier says, ‘OK, my door is open,’” Benton added. “The officers go to open the door to get in there … and they never gave him a chance to get out of the car” before he’s shot.
In a news release sent out the weekend of the shooting, state police said the incident began about 4:35 p.m. in Henrico County near Short Pump, when a state trooper observed a 2003 Mercedes-Benz C230 traveling 98 mph in a 65 mph zone. The trooper pursued the car to pull it over and a chase ensued. The fleeing driver accelerated to more than 120 mph, police said.
At one point, the driver attempted to make a U-turn to elude police, but then slid down an embankment into the median. Two state troopers approached the vehicle. Police said they gave “repeated verbal commands” to the driver to get out of the car and show his hands.
Police said Hill displayed a firearm and was subsequently shot. A handgun was recovered from inside the Mercedes, police said. Hill died at the scene.
Benton also appeared to dispute that her son was involved in a high-speed chase, but her explanation was not clear on what she believed occurred.
Asked whether she saw a firearm or other object in her son’s hand, she replied, “absolutely not.”
“He’s left handed, so [police] shot him in his left hand,” she said. “So [he] can’t shoot with his right hand.”
Benton said the family was told that the firearm that police found inside her son’s car was “jammed,” and it had been reported stolen a day after the fatal shooting.
“My son is not a thug,” Benton said. “He’s a child, he’s 18 years old. I’m begging with you all, I’m pleading with you all. Please, I want justice for my son.”
Benton said on the afternoon of the shooting, her son was heading back to Charlottesville, where he was living in an apartment while working for Benton, whose family owns a cleaning company.
“My son was on a contract with me working in Charlottesville,” she said. “He wanted to go work for our company and I moved my son to Charlottesville.”
Hill graduated last year from Stafford High School, where he played football and other sports, Benton said.
Benton and other family members on Saturday demanded that state police release the video. They also called for the officers to be charged.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch asked Caudill for a copy of the dash cam footage or an opportunity to view it. Caudill declined, citing the ongoing investigation, but left the door open for the video being made available at some point.
Caudill, who also has viewed the video, declined to describe what he observed.
Hill’s family originally planned to hold a news conference Thursday, but an attorney they retained, Joshua Erlich, advised them to hold off until he could view the police video and gather other facts.
About noon Saturday, family members contacted members of the media about a press conference, adding they were no longer working with Erlich. Benton on Saturday said the family plans to hire a civil rights attorney, but she declined to say who.
State police declined on Saturday to respond to the family’s allegations.
“Because this remains an ongoing investigation, the state police is not in a position to release any additional information beyond what we already have to date,” said spokeswoman Corinne Geller. “Once the investigation is complete, the criminal investigative findings will be turned over to the commonwealth’s attorney for final review and adjudication.”
Because of funding and infrastructure issues, state troopers are not equipped with body-worn cameras for statewide, day-to-day use. But their cruisers are equipped with dashboard cameras.
State police moved forward years ago with a plan to replace the department’s existing in-car system — which it has used in various forms since the early 1990s — with new technology that provides each trooper with a package of three in-car cameras and one body camera that are all synchronized. But that has been put on hold.
The agency has 359 body-worn cameras it has been preparing to use, but state legislators in 2019 temporarily barred their deployment because of the costs associated with reviewing, redacting and storing the video and other practicalities.
A state work group was assembled in 2019 to review the workload impact, as well as other fiscal and policy repercussions, on the state’s public safety and judicial agencies as a whole.
“We are only able to use the existing body cameras for temporary, event/incident-driven assignments,” Geller said. “Absent funding, we have no choice but to stay with the existing in-car camera.”