Until recently, Keegan Zacharie was one of the most outstanding students at T.C. Williams High School. He had a 4.18 grade point average, and he was recently named a National Merit Commended Student. He was a member of the National Honor Society and the Key Club. Over the summer, he was one of 45 Virginia high school students at the Virginia Governor's German Immersion Academy at Virginia Commonwealth University, speaking exclusively German for the duration of the program.
But in September, Zacharie's life took a bizarre turn. On Sept. 2, he was arrested for stabbing three police officers in Old Town. In a preliminary hearing in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Friday, Judge Nolan Dawkins certified the case to the Alexandria Circuit Court, where the 17-year-old will face trial as an adult.
At Friday's hearing, the three officers who were stabbed by Zacharie testified about the events of Sept. 2 — explaining how the young man had been stopped after officers observed him using a flashlight to peer into parked cars in the 300 block of Duke Street. One of the officers has yet to return to service because of the extent of his injuries.
Zacharie's lawyer said that when officers searched his bag, the teenager panicked — using a knife to attack the officers and flee from the scene of the crime. He was found two hours later hiding in a Columbus Street alley.
"He was panicked and terror struck and he just lost control," said Jonathan Shapiro, Zacharie's lawyer.
AT 1:30 A.M. on Sept. 2, officers were in Old Town looking for suspects in a recent rash of burglaries. Detective Venus Roman testified that she observed Zacharie use a flashlight to look into several cars parked in the 300 block of Duke Street.
"I stopped him," she said. "I showed him by badge. I showed him my gun. I approached him, and I started to ask him questions."
Roman testified that Zacharie gave her a fake name but was otherwise cooperative, answering questions and consenting to a pat-down and a search of his duffel bag. Zacharie put his hands on a police cruiser while Officer Mark Peterson searched him for weapons. Roman opened Zacharie's bag and Peterson searched the suspect while Officer Sean Casey arrived on the scene.
"I immediately opened the bag and saw a crow bar," Roman said. When she asked him about it, Zacharie turned to answer the detective — accidentally striking Officer Peterson in the face with his elbow.
"He instinctively turned around to answer her question," Peterson said, adding that Zacharie apologized for accidentally hitting the officer.
Suddenly, according to his lawyer, Zacharie panicked — transforming a cooperative investigation to an unexpected assault. Officers testified that Zacharie punched Peterson on the left side of his face, initiating a brawl with the officers.
"I DID NOT SEE him turn around," Peterson said. "I was on top of him, punching him numerous times."
They testified that they tackled the teenager and wrestled him to the ground while Roman announced that she was going to use pepper spray to subdue Zacharie. The officers said they moved out of the way while Roman sprayed Zacharie, then moved in again.
The pepper spray seemed to have no effect on the teenager as he struggled with the officers. At the time, they said, they did not realize that he pulled a knife from his waistband and was stabbing them. Somehow, Zacharie struggled free from the officers and ran north toward Prince Street.
"I am still confused as to how that happened," Casey said.
That's when Roman, Peterson and Casey realized that they were bleeding.
"I felt warmth and wet on my right arm," Roman testified. "I didn't want to look at it."
Roman received 22 stitches and a permanent scar on her right arm. Casey testified that he was stabbed in the stomach and hand, adding that he still has trouble moving his hand properly. Peterson said he received about 30 stitches to his face, neck, left elbow and right shoulder. He has yet to return to work and is still recovering from the Sept. 2 attack.
TWO HOURS AFTER the confrontation on King Street, officers were still searching Old Town to find the teenager. Detective Victor Ignacio testified that he found Zacharie hiding in an alleyway garage off of Columbus Street.
"He was laying on his stomach with his arms spread out," Ignacio testified, adding that his hand was bleeding. "He told me that he was a T.C. student."
Ignacio testified that while they were in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Zacharie expressed regret — asking when he could make a public statement apologizing to the officers. Ignacio said he read Zacharie his Miranda rights and escorted him into the hospital.
"It is noteworthy, judge, that he apologized in the ambulance on the way to the hospital," Shapiro said. "It's as though he came to his senses."
Shapiro was unable to persuade Judge Dawkins to reduce the charges, and the case was certified to circuit court. He is charged with three counts of malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer — a charge that carries a maximum 40 years for each offense and a mandatory minimum of two years for each count. Zacharie is currently in custody at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, where he has been since Sept. 2.