Photo: Xzavier Hill
Xzavier Hill was 18 and a half years old when he was murdered by two Virginia state troopers on Interstate 64 on January 8. He was LaToya Benton’s only birth child and the youngest of her mother’s grandchildren. Benton describes Xzavier as “aware of himself and his surroundings.” He often played sports and was the kind of person who tried everything. “He was our limelight,” she recalls.
Benton and her family moved to the Fairfax, Virginia area from Norfolk for a better life. Xzavier was in Charlottesville for a work contract with their family business. A few days before the police shooting, the fascist attack on the Capitol took place, prompting LaToya to reach out to her son warning him to be careful. That was one of the last communications she had with Xzavier.
Over 12 hours after her son was shot and killed by state troopers, Benton heard from the police who were investigating the incident. No one gave her answers or clear information about what was happening with her son because they needed to “confirm her identity.” Benton feels the system often takes advantage of families in their moments of grief and confusion, leaving them in the dark for so long.
LaToya’s message and mission is powerful:
“People need to realize that just because it happened to me, doesn’t mean it can’t happen to them. With the current system we have in place right now, it can happen to anybody. I don’t care what color you are — though yes, it happens more to Black people. … You cannot reform something that was already broken, so it needs to be demolished and rebuilt. We need systematic change and that is our mission. I want justice for my son but I can’t bring my son back. Making the overall change to fix the system is change for me. It can be done. We have to realize as a people, police brutality can affect any of us. It can’t be a matter of when it’s ‘hot.’ I need people to be consistent.”
The state troopers who shot Xzavier are Benjamin Bone and Seth Walker Layton. Layton’s father is the chief of police of Fredericksburg, and he became a state trooper mere months before shooting Xzavier.
A few days after the shooting, Benton, her sister, brother, and husband went to the station to see the video tape of Xzavier’s murder. Benton states, “Any person who sees someone they love for the last time is going to remember that.” The tape that police released to the public was one from a different angle that obscures the truth of what happened. The police claim Xzavier was holding a gun in his hand when they approached his vehicle, however, the tape Benton and her family saw showed that was not true.
In the investigation and grand jury report, the police claim Bone and Layton approach Xzavier in one vehicle, implying that there is only one dash cam video tape of what happened that night. However, in the publicly released video, it is clear that the second officer approaches Xzavier from a completely different angle, the one of the first video Benton and her family viewed days after the shooting.
Benton has asked the DA’s office why they released the second tape and not the first, and has never heard a response back. Freedom of Information Act requests that Benton’s legal team have filed to have the other footage and more information released have all been denied. Similar issues have occurred with edited video footage and obscured body-cam footage in the recent D.C. police murders of Marqueese Alston and Antwan Gilmore.
LaToya’s family is currently in the midst of a wrongful death suit, but also wants to push for systemic changes. Mark Herring, the Virginia Attorney General, refuses to contact her family or acknowledge any communications received from Benton and supporters of her case for justice. “We always get generic emails in response, but never a phone call or a genuine response,” LaToya says.
Benton has experienced other obstacles, such as trying to seek support from the Victim’s Services Division in Fairfax County. However, that this support is being offered through the DA’s office makes it a lot less comforting. When she went to seek support, the DA said to her that she and Xzavier are not victims, and that Xzavier’s killing was “justified.”
Raising awareness and discussing Xzavier’s case is important to LaToya because she believes not everyone is on social media and information can spread quickly through word-of-mouth. Benton reflects that: “Emailing and creating a paper trail is helpful too. The more people that contact the AG’s office shows they’re ignoring everyone, not just me.” Sharing Xzavier’s hashtag, #JusticeforXzavier, is important to spreading the word and connecting people to the cause.
A donation to LaToya’s legal fees can be made here.