Former Newport News police officer sentenced to 6 years in killing of man in his home

A former Newport News police officer was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday in the killing of a man in his home nearly three years ago.

Circuit Court Judge Margaret Poles Spencer handed down the sentence on former Sgt. Albin Trevor Pearson in the shooting death of 43-year-old Henry K. “Hank” Berry III on Dec. 27, 2019. She gave Pearson five years to serve for voluntary manslaughter and a year for going into Berry’s home unlawfully.

Friday’s hearing on charges featured emotional testimony from the fathers of both men.

Pearson shot Berry during a struggle over a Taser after four officers chased him into his Oyster Point apartment without a warrant to arrest him on a misdemeanor charge of abusing the city’s 911 system.

Berry had made a series of calls to the police that day about the well-being of his 9-year-old son who he thought had a black eye. But Pearson and another officer told him the boy was fine, and Pearson decided Berry should be arrested for his continued calls.

When Berry tried to close his door on the officers, they pushed their way in, with the group ending up on the floor in close quarters. Another officer deployed a Taser in a standoff, with Pearson shooting Berry once in the back during the ensuing chaos.

Berry’s father, Henry K. Berry Jr., 83, called the shooting “such an unnecessary crime.”

“My son thought his son was in trouble, and he was trying to protect him and did everything he could,” he said, breaking down in tears on the witness stand. “He lost his life for a telephone call.”

A graduate of Hampton Roads Academy, Hank Berry ran a tree-cutting business since he was 19. He was also very creative, his father said, developing several patents — including one allowing trucks to more easily trim trees on a highway without stopping.

Hank and his son did everything together, from skiing to BMX biking to going to church, his father testified.

”His whole life was his son,” the father said.

Hank had sole custody of the boy for eight years, but lost custody only weeks before his death following an episode of mental illness.

The boy, now 12, has undergone psychological counseling, his grandfather said. But the family tries not to talk about the shooting with him, even as he wants to know more.

“He’s a remarkably resilient young man,” Henry Berry said. “We try to keep him from seeing what happened ... We don’t bring the subject up.”

He added that Sylvia Berry — his ex-wife and Hank’s mother — kept putting off needed heart surgery because of the trial. But she deteriorated to the point where the condition became inoperable, he said, and she died in June.

“It killed her, too,” he said.

Berry turned to Spencer and asked for the maximum sentence, “to show the community that police officers can’t do this kind of thing and get away with it.”

Though Pearson was charged with second-degree murder, a jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter in September. He faced up to 11 years behind bars, but discretionary state sentencing guidelines came in at just over two years at the low end and five years, nine months at the high end.

Pearson’s father, Troy Pearson, of Newport News, testified on his son’s behalf, calling him “a pillar” to an autistic niece who “looks for him all the time.”

When the younger Pearson was about 20, his father said, he considered joining the military but thought he’d have more of a chance to help people if he became a firefighter.

But he happened to get a call from a police recruiter, who told him that EMT skills would be good to have as a police officer, since “he’d be the first on scene.” He ended up serving 14 years on the police force.

The elder Pearson noted the time his son responded to a call in which three people were trapped on a burning roof. He got a nearby ladder, climbed on the roof and got everyone down. “He made life-saving efforts on all three, and two survived,” he said.

“Sorry, it’s so hard for me,” the elder Pearson said as he broke down on the stand.

Troy Pearson noted that when his son was arrested, he was the strongest in the family, encouraging everyone to pray for the judge, prosecutors and Berry’s family.

But Suffolk Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Rhonda Spady — whose office tried the case after Newport News prosecutors recused themselves — asked for a firm sentence.

“A man’s castle is his home,” she said. “But Sgt. Pearson didn’t respect that, and his colleagues didn’t respect it.” Instead, she said, they chased Berry into his home as he yelled “God help me!”

“They attacked (Berry) where they had no right to attack him,” she said. “Mr. Berry died trying to protect himself in his home ... That requires a punishment.”

She asked for the maximum term “on behalf of the Berry family,” but said it should be “no lower” than the guideline midpoint of just over four years.

Pearson’s attorney, Timothy Clancy, said his client didn’t go to Berry’s home intending to harm anyone.

“He made a judgment that wasn’t malicious,” Clancy said.

The lawyer noted that another officer deployed a Taser in an improper fashion, shooting electrified barbs instead of using a drive stun feature that’s better for close quarters. That caused chaos in which the prongs “went everywhere” and struck several officers, Clancy said.

The body camera footage doesn’t show who controlled the Taser during the struggle. But Pearson testified at trial — and Clancy asserted again on Friday — that Berry had the Taser and was pointing it directly at another officer.

After the shooting, Clancy said, Pearson immediately tried to help Berry.

“He’s active in his church, he’s doing landscaping, he’s giving back,” Clancy said, saying Pearson honored all of his probation requirements and wants to get a degree in psychology and theology and become a police chaplain.

Clancy submitted 31 letters from Pearson’s family, friends and colleagues, many of whom were in the courtroom Friday.

Before being sentenced, Albin Pearson told Spencer he’s “spent all his life trying to serve the community,” and “I’ve always wanted to be a good man.”

“I want the family to know that I never intended Mr. Berry to be hurt,” he said. “I did not go there for that reason. I wish I could have been a stronger man and a better police officer, and I will carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Pearson, who had been out on bond since his November 2020 arrest, was immediately remanded into custody. After the hearing, his family and friends gathered in a prayer circle in the courtroom hallway.

Troy Pearson said he found the sentence excessive.

“The courts had no mercy on an officer who has given his all to his community,” he said, saying his son was trying to protect his fellow officers.

Clancy said he plans to appeal.

But Henry Berry said he found the sentence fair, saying citizens should be able to rely on police for protection, “not to be afraid of them.”

“Maybe it will deter any other police officers from doing something stupid like that,” he said. “They’ll know that there are consequences for doing that kind of stuff. I think that’s important.”

Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749,