Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018
It was a low-key Sunday assignment for Virginia Commonwealth University Police officer Nicholas Finch: Oversee a community service worker who was washing cars on a spring afternoon.
The two were outside VCU Police headquarters at 224 E. Broad St. in downtown Richmond, between VCU’s campuses, when distinct sounds rang out that immediately caught Finch’s attention.
Multiple gunshots had erupted about a block away on Fourth Street.
Finch, in his third year with the VCU Police Department, would later be recognized for his quick actions that March afternoon.
‘Where’s the gun?’
When Finch heard the gunshots, he sent the worker inside and then ran eastbound against a wave of people fleeing the Fourth and Broad street intersection. He also saw a crowd forming on the sidewalk in front of the business and two suspicious men running away.
Finch’s initial instinct was that the crowd was gathering around a gunshot victim, an instinct that turned out to be true. He made a split-second decision to pursue the two men.
“I screamed at them to stop and gained distance on one in front of the convention center,” Finch said.
The man started taking off his jacket and Finch, who had his service weapon drawn, held the man at gunpoint. The man complied and laid face down on the ground.
Finch finally had a chance to call for additional police units on his radio, but also saw the man reach toward his right pants pocket. Finch suspected the man was armed, and demanded he not reach for his pants.
“I screamed at him to stop and asked the guy, ‘where’s the gun?’” Finch said. “He got pretty close to the pocket … that was a close one.”
As backup officers arrived, Finch was able to search the suspect on the ground and recovered a handgun from the man’s right pocket. He then secured the handgun and as another officer watched the suspect, Finch ran across Broad Street to the victim and crowd.
Securing the crime scene
Finch directed other officers to administer first aid and found witnesses to the shooting; one led Finch to a trash can at Fourth and Grace streets, where the other suspect had discarded a second firearm. Finch secured the can as part of the crime scene.
In hindsight, Finch said he had a “hyper level” of focus during his initial response to run through a crowd to chase a suspect.
At the time, Finch recalls thinking, “I basically have to accept the risk that I don’t know who shot this person and I could easily pass by the suspect who did. And they could shoot me in the back.”
Despite the efforts by other officers and emergency medical personnel, the shooting victim did not survive. The Richmond Police Department handled the subsequent homicide investigation. The suspect Finch had detained that day later identified a second assailant and both were charged in the case; one was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
I basically have to accept the risk that I don’t know who shot this person and I could easily pass by the suspect who did. And they could shoot me in the back.
Above and beyond
For Finch’s response on March 25, the Retail Merchants Association of Richmond honored him with a silver VALOR award. The annual awards ceremony, in its 29th year, recognizes first responders in the greater Richmond area “who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, serving the community and putting themselves in harm’s way.” This is the second time a VCU Police officer has received a VALOR Award since 2016.
“On a daily basis, the community demands a lot from our police officers and this is an outstanding example of the commitment and dedication of all VCU Police staff,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “I’m pleased that officer Finch is receiving such a high level of recognition, which he greatly deserves.”
Finch, who currently serves in the patrol division, said receiving the award alongside other public safety colleagues in the region was humbling.
“Listening to the citations of the other recipients reminds me that actions such as mine, while uncommon, are part of the occupation,” he said after the VALOR ceremony on Wednesday. “It’s what makes this such an extraordinary community of professionals.”