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Judge hears dismissal arguments in Xzavier Hill wrongful death lawsuit

People stand in front of a building with large windows. Two hold signs that read "Justice for Xzavier
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
Friends and family of Xzavier Hill speak outside the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond on Wednesday. A judge heard arguments in a civil rights case brought by Hill's mother, Latoya Benton, against the Virginia State Police officers who killed him after a high-speed chase in 2021.

Hill’s mother filed suit against the state troopers who killed him. A grand jury found they were justified in using deadly force.

A federal judge in Richmond heard arguments Wednesday in the case of an 18-year-old man fatally shot by Virginia State Police troopers during a 2021 traffic stop.

Xzavier Hill’s mother, Latoya Benton, brought a civil rights lawsuit against officers Seth Layton and Benjamin Bone after a grand jury found the troopers were justified in using deadly force and declined to indict either of them.

Bone and Layton motioned the court to throw out the case before it can go to trial, arguing the officers acted reasonably and feared for their lives.

They say Hill led them on a high-speed chase before crashing into an embankment on I-64 in Goochland County — and that as they approached the vehicle, Hill reached toward the center console, produced a handgun and pointed it at Layton’s face.

Both troopers say they simultaneously announced the presence of the gun before discharging their weapons, shooting Hill three times in the hand, face and neck.

While Hill did have a firearm in reach, Benton’s attorneys said he didn’t have the gun in his hand, but that it was tucked in between the seats.

Layton and Bone had signaled for Hill to stop when he passed them driving eastbound at 90 mph in a posted 65 mph zone. The troopers began to follow Hill, who accelerated before briefly coming to a stop on the right-hand shoulder.

He then attempted to make a U-turn into the westbound lane, a maneuver he failed to complete because his car became lodged in a ditch beside the westbound shoulder.

Benton’s attorney told Judge Henry Hudson that Hill had broken the law by speeding and evading officers, but he posed no immediate threat to the troopers.

The officers maintain they issued several commands for Hill to exit his car and show his hands but say Hill did not comply. The lawsuit alleges that troopers did not provide Hill with an opportunity to comply and that they confused Hill with inconsistent commands.

An attorney for the troopers, Robert McEntee noted in court that on Hill’s two iPhones inside the car, investigators found internet searches for “ran from police and got away,” “Driving with lights off,” and “check gun serial number” all made in the days immediately prior to the incident.

Hudson said he’s going to review the record and determine in the next few weeks whether the case can move forward.

After the hearing, a crowd gathered outside the courthouse and chanted Hill’s name and “No justice, no peace.”

A crying Benton thanked the group for their support.

“We’re fighting every day,” she told them. “I ask y’all to please, please stay behind, not just Xza[vier]’s case. We’ve got to start doing systematic change across the board.”

Benton initially filed the lawsuit without an attorney before Hampton attorney Verbana Askew came on in October 2022.

“We spent so much money just trying to get to this day,” Benton said.

Askew said she believes Hudson will take a deeper look at the evidence and not just take the word of law enforcement.

“You cannot just accept what they say because they say it,” she said. “You don’t kill a victim who is a nonviolent offender, because he didn’t do what you told him to do.”

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.