Patrolman, ex-partner indicted in shooting death
Friday, July 15, 2005

Annette and Jimmy Olavarria, holding a picture of their son, Santanna, believe Richmond police were not justified in shooting their son to death after a routine traffic stop last year. (DEAN HOFFMEYER/TIMES-DISPATCH)

A special grand jury has indicted a Richmond police officer and his former partner on murder charges stemming from the police shooting death of a 21-year-old South Richmond man during a traffic stop in May 2004.

Edward Aeschlimann, a rookie patrolman, and Michael J. Couture, who recently resigned from the police force under pressure, were arrested last night without incident by Virginia State Police. They were being held without bond in the city lockup pending a hearing today.

The special grand jury, which had issued a sealed report on the shooting in early May, reconvened yesterday and issued the indictments against Couture and Aeschlimann for their alleged roles in the death of Santanna Olavarria at an East End intersection on May 29, 2004. Both men face charges of second-degree murder and unlawful use of a firearm. They both face an additional charge of shooting into an occupied vehicle.

Olavarria was shot four times, once by Couture, who was inside Olavarria's car, and three times by Aeschlimann after what appeared to be a routine traffic stop at Fairfield Way and Mechanicsville Turnpike. Two of the wounds were fatal.

The officers said they acted in self-defense after one saw a handgun protruding from beneath the driver's seat, but Olavarria's mother said witnesses told her that they saw her son raise both hands in the air before he was shot.

Olavarria was driving a 1995 Buick when he was stopped for allegedly running a stop sign. During a struggle to remove Olavarria from the car, police said, Couture was dragged and pulled into the vehicle as it started to move.

Couture resigned from the force June 29 under threat of termination for what Police Chief Rodney Monroe said were discrepancies in his previous police employment records. Aeschlimann has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting.

"As with all criminal matters, the Richmond Police Department is fully cooperating in the investigation," Monroe said last night upon learning of the indictments and arrests.

The indictments represented a new strategy by Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David M. Hicks for prosecuting the two men, based on an almost yearlong investigation by Virginia State Police that led to the special grand jury report. The special grand jury first recommended that the case be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation and possible prosecution on federal civil-rights charges.

"The original plan always left open the option of keeping this grand jury up to date and going back to them to prosecute this matter if we felt this was warranted," Hicks said late yesterday.

"We have had conversations with our federal partners, and those conversations are continuing," he said. "We thought it was prudent to start our own proceedings while those other conversations are ongoing."

Contact Jim Nolan at (804) 649-6061 or jnolan@timesdispatch.com
Contact Michael Martz at (804) 649-6964 or mmartz@timesdispatch.com

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice