Newport News police officer charged with murder in suspect’s 2019 death
Newport News police officer charged with murder in suspect’s 2019 death

Peter Dujardin
The Daily Press

A grand jury in Newport News Circuit Court this week indicted two Newport News police officers in the killing of a man they were trying to arrest on a misdemeanor charge late last year.

Police Sgt. Albin T. Pearson, 33, a 12-year-department veteran, is charged with second-degree murder and other charges in the killing of Henry Kistler “Hank” Berry III during a struggle over a Taser on Dec. 27.

Another Newport News police officer, Dwight Pitterson, 31, is charged with felony malicious wounding and other charges in Kistler’s death.

The officers were trying to arrest Kistler, 43, on a misdemeanor charge of abusing the city’s 911 system after he made a series of calls earlier that afternoon. He was shot inside his apartment in Oyster Point.

Police said last year that Berry was resisting arrest and would not let the officers handcuff him.

The Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office — handling the case after Newport News prosecutors recused themselves — presented the charges to the grand jury Tuesday. The indictments were unsealed Wednesday.

“My office has fully reviewed the evidence in conjunction with detectives from the Newport News Police Department,” Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillip Ferguson said in a statement. “This case will be tried in the courtroom and not in the media,” he said.

Pearson is charged with second-degree murder, using a firearm in a felony, reckless handling of a firearm, 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.

Police said that starting about 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, Berry called 911 four times from his apartment on Nantucket Place, a neighborhood off Pilot House Drive, not far from City Center.

Jessica Schieffer, 36, the mother of Berry’s now 10-year-old child, told the Daily Press earlier this year that on the day of the killing, a Newport News police officer called her to say that Berry was telling police that his 9-year-old son had been “kidnapped.”

She said she told the officers that Berry had been hospitalized for three days earlier that month with possible schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Schieffer said she told the officers that with Berry’s mental illness, he “might not remember” that he had lost custody of his son at a court hearing only 10 days earlier — after previously having custody of him for more than seven years.

After responding to the home after each of the 911 calls, police came by again at 7:50 p.m. They intended to arrest him on a charge of “falsely summoning police with the intent to mislead,” a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

But when Berry opened the door, “he was in an agitated state,” Police Chief Steve Drew said at a news conference about two hours after the shooting.

“They asked him to step outside, and he refused,” Drew said. “There was a short conversation. They asked him a second time, and he refused. He then darted back inside … and attempted to slam the door on the officers.”

An officer blocked the door from closing, he said, and police went inside.

“It started out with two, then three, then eventually four officers in the apartment,” Drew said. “Small quarters. They … go to the floor. There was a short tussle,” and an officer fell into a wall.

A female police officer tried to get Berry to relax. “She was just patting him on his back, trying to calm him down, reassuring him … saying ‘Calm down, calm down,’” Drew said.

“You have one officer holding one arm and another officer holding the other one,” he said. “They can’t get him to release. I don’t know if he’s holding on to a jacket or a shirt, or just clenched.”

Officers couldn’t “wedge” Berry’s arm between his body and a wall, the chief said, and an officer pulled out his Taser. “If you don’t stop resisting, you will be Tased,” the officer told Berry, Drew said.

The officer then Tased him, Drew said. “And the reaction is, he grabs that Taser … And now the struggle is on. There is a fight on.”

“Berry shoved Sgt. Pearson into a wall and was able to disarm Officer (Dwight) Pitterson of his Taser,” a detective wrote in a December search warrant affidavit that was unsealed June 26. “Berry discharged Officer Pitterson’s Taser, striking Sgt. Pearson in the knee.”

The sworn statement didn’t say whether police believed Berry fired the Taser intentionally — or if it went off accidentally during the struggle to control it.

“Sgt. Pearson collapsed to the floor and was able to draw his weapon,” the affidavit said. “Sgt. Pearson fired one round, striking Berry.”

An officer ran outside to get a medic bag, Drew said. Officers put compressions on Berry, “trying the best they can to save his life,” but he died at the scene.

Pearson and Pitterson turned themselves in on Wednesday afternoon, and are in custody of the Newport News City Jail and are expected to appear this week in Newport News Circuit Court.

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