War on Drugs

Report from Chesapeake


The crowd for yesterday's Ryan Frederick rally was modest in size. I arrived at around 10:45am, and at the time there were about as many members of the media as there were supporters. A glum, cold rain might have had something to do with the turnout. I hung around until about 2, and I'd say that over that span, a total of 100 to 120 people showed up at one point or another.

The crowd was a mix of Frederick's family, friends, and former co-workers, along with a smattering of people from the community who'd seen his jailhouse interview on television or read about him in the paper. About a half dozen local libertarian activists also showed up.

There were no dissenters while I was there. In fact, I've yet to see a negative word about Frederick in any of the coverage of the raid from local media, at least from anyone who knows him. The worst thing I've yet to read about the guy came from special prosecutor Paul Ebert—who's never met Frederick and came to the case from the other side of the state—when at the bond hearing, Ebert called Frederick, "A potential danger to society."

Susan Milne, a woman in her 50s who worked with Frederick at the Virginia Beach Resort & Conference Center (where Frederick was a banquet manager) described him as "very passive, loving, giving, honest—I wish I had more adjectives. He's such a sweet kid. I feel so bad for him."

Michelle Berard, a hairdresser in Virginia Beach, doesn't know Frederick, but decided to come after seeing his jailhouse interview on the local news. "I could tell he was honest and scared," she said. "This raiding people's houses is a failed policy, and they know it. They should admit it and let him go. What happened to that cop is sad, but two wrongs don't make a right."

Retired naval inspector W.O. Jones showed up with his wife around noon to give $50 to Frederick's defense fund. "New stories like this arise every day in this area," he said. "I'm tired of this. I'm here because if I was in that kid's shoes, I'd have done the same thing."

Frederick was also recently engaged. Family friend Amy Jones, who also worked with Frederick in Virginia Beach, says Frederick's been emotionally devastated since the raid. Others close to Frederick I spoke with say he repeteadly smacked his head against the patrol car window, and vomitted on the way to the police station. "We were afraid they were going to put him on suicide watch," Jones said. "He's doing better now. But he doesn't know why this happened to him."

Frederick's neighborhood is working class. Several people described it as "rough," though, one local resident clarified, noting that I drove down from Washington, "Rough by Chesapeake standards, not by D.C. standards." Supporters who know Frederick personally also mentioned his recently deceased mother, who once worked for the sheriff's department, explaining that he wasn't someone with any animus toward law enforcement.

I spoke with one of Frederick's neighbors and several farmily members, though not for attribution. Both Chesapeake police detectives and Frederick's attorney James Broccoletti have asked neighbors not to talk to the media. In fact, both sides have told everyone close to Frederick not to talk to reporters. I found, though, that Frederick's supporters are fairly eager to tell what they know anyway, and tend to open up with little prodding. The Chesapeake police department and Broccoletti aren't commenting right now.

Here are a few other items that came out yesterday:

• Three separate people close to Frederick told me that Frederick and Broccoletti are now aware of the informant's identity. All three said it's an acquaintance of Frederick's, that the informant has a criminal record, and that it was the informant who broke into Frederick' house three days before the raid. Again, this hasn't been confirmed by Broccoletti, Chesapeake PD, or Paul Ebert. But it certainly meshes with Frederick's jailhouse interview, in which he told Virginian-Pilot reporter John Hopkins that police told him as they arrested him they knew about the prior break-in, and that they knew who had done it.

• One neighbor I spoke with said Frederick is "not—not—a drug dealer." "He's a good kid," the neighbor said, "He's worked hard from the time he was young. And let me tell you something. I'm not supposed to talk about the case, but all the truth isn't out in this. You're going to hear much, much more before this is over." This neighbor also confirmed that Frederick is an early riser, which would explain why he was sleeping at 8:30pm that night. "My husband goes to work at 4:30 in the morning. Ryan would usually be gone by the time he left. I can tell you, my husband goes to bed at 8 or 8:30, too. You have to when you get up at a quarter to four."

• Friends, neighbors, and two of Frederick's former roommates confirmed to me that Frederick is an avid gardener. The yard behind his home includes an elaborate pond with fish, and a variety of tropical plants. Several people also confirmed that he did in fact raise Japanese Maples.

• The neighbor I spoke with says Frederick has near unanimous support from his neighborhood. I say "near" because, oddly enough, I was told Chesapeake's police chief apparently lives one street over. But the people I spoke with say they know of no neighbors who heard any police announcement the night of the raid. The houses in Frederick's neighborhood are spaced fairly close together. And the raid was early enough—8:30pm—that they say if the police had announced loud enough for a sleeping Frederick to hear, several people nearby should have heard something, too. Thus far, it seems that no one did.

• The same neighbor said she and Frederick's other neighbors don't believe Shivers was in the yard when he was shot, as Ebert asserted at last week's bond hearing. This neighbor also says that only Shivers and his partner served the warrant, not the 13 police officers Ebert also claimed at the hearing. "When my dog started barking, I went outside," the neighbor told me. "I only saw two cops. The others only started showing up after Detective Shivers was already down."

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Ebert's assertion that more than a dozen officers served the warrant was clearly an effort to make it seem implausible that Frederick could have mistaken the raiding police for criminals.

It's significant that Frederick has support from the people who live around him. One woman I spoke with says there's little tolerance in the neighborhood for drug dealing. She said she's called the police herself on a house nearby that was known to be slinging dope. If Frederick were dealing, she says, his neighbors would be glad to have him out of the area. Instead, they're coming to his defense.

Just judging from similar cases I've looked over the last few years, I'd say Frederick still has an uphill battle. But it's notable that the community seems to be growing increasingly skeptical of the way the investigation and warrant service were handled. Comments at the Virginian-Pilot website have gone from mostly calling for Frederick's head shortly after the raid, to a fairly healthy majority now expressing doubt about Frederick's guilt. It helps that the Pilot's coverage has been pretty fair—much more balanced and less deferential to the police than I've seen in the past after a botched drug raid leads to an officer's death.

Prior coverage of the Frederick case here.