Home South Carolina man pleads guilty to first-degree murder of Big Stone Gap police officer
State/National

South Carolina man pleads guilty to first-degree murder of Big Stone Gap police officer

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Michael Donivan White pled guilty yesterday to federal charges related to the November 2021 murder of Big Stone Gap Police Officer Michael Chandler and a wide-ranging drug conspiracy.

White, 36, of South Carolina, pled guilty to eight counts in relation to the murder of Chandler. He pled guilty to one count of causing the death of a person using a firearm, which killing was first-degree murder, in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, one count of conspiring to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, one count of using a place for the purpose of distributing or using a controlled substance, one count of using a communication facility in committing any felony-controlled substance offense, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, one count of possession of a stolen firearm, and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and using, brandishing and discharging that firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime.

“Big Stone Gap Police Officer Michael Chandler died serving his community. The men and women among us who swear the oath and put on the badge keep all of us safe,” United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said. “While nothing we do in a courtroom can ever bring Michael back, our hope is that today’s guilty plea brings some semblance of peace to his family, friends, and brethren in law enforcement that today, justice was done.”

According to court documents, beginning in August 2021 and continuing even after the time of his arrest in October 2022, White and 18 other defendants participated in a conspiracy to distribute more than 15 kilograms of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl.

At approximately 4 a.m. on November 13, 2021, Chandler responded to a dispatch call at 2505 Orr Street in Big Stone Gap, known locally as “the red house.” Upon arriving, Chandler encountered a vehicle outside the residence. He requested backup, telling dispatch, “This car is taking off on me.” Inside the vehicle, White told a female co-defendant, Misty Ward, to “get the fu*k out of there” because drugs were in the vehicle and that “he was not going back to jail.” Ward started to drive off as directed, but then stopped and got out of the vehicle.  As Ward exited the vehicle, Chandler asked Ward to show him her hands, which were covered by her jacket. Ward complied, raising her hands up in the air. At that point, White attempted to flee the scene, however, the vehicle got stuck in the grass. Chandler approached the vehicle on the driver’s side, hitting the window with his flashlight.

White brandished a Taurus 9mm pistol and immediately fired eight shots through the driver’s side window and door, striking Chandler’s wrist and abdomen just below his bulletproof vest. He died later that evening from his injuries.

“First, let me say our prayers for healing go out to the family of Big Stone Gap Police Officer Michael Chandler. At the core of this tragic event is a previously convicted felon getting illegal access to a firearm,” said ATF Washington Field Division Special Agent in Charge Craig Kailimai. “It is our hope that Mr. White receives a lengthy sentence that holds him accountable for every one of his criminal acts. Keeping our communities safe and supporting our fellow law enforcement partners is what drives ATF in the fight against violent crime.”

After the shooting, law enforcement identified White as a suspect. White was later found at a motel in Kingsport, Tenn., and a subsequent search of the motel room found a Taurus 9mm pistol. Further testing ultimately proved the firearm to be the same that fired the shots that killed Chandler.

The investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Virginia State Police, the United States Marshal’s Service, the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, the City of Norton Virginia Police Department, the Kingsport Tennessee Police Department, the Big Stone Gap Police Department, the Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, the East Tennessee Drug Task Force and the Southwest Virginia Drug Task Force.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.

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