Virginia resident helped deputy apprehend a suspect

Neil Ellis of Bedford poses for a portrait at his place of work in Lynchburg, Va. on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Ellis helped apprehend a suspect who assaulted a police officer while resisting arrest. (Kendall Warner/The News & Advance via AP)

LYNCHBURG, Va. — When Bedford County resident Neil Ellis, 38, was driving home after an out-of-state job, he was not expecting to assist a Bedford County Sheriff’s deputy in apprehending a suspect.

It was early in the afternoon on an early spring day this year when Ellis saw several stopped vehicles, including an unmarked police car, ahead of him on Moneta Road.

As he slowed down to try and find out what was happening, Ellis said, he saw a fight ensuing: flailing arms and a deputy getting hit by someone he was apparently trying to arrest.

Ellis reacted on impulse. He pulled over, got out of his vehicle, and approached the scene as the suspect fled and the deputy pursued.

“It was kind of automatic. It was, ‘I’m not going to sit here and watch this happen,’” Ellis said.

When he was already in the middle of following the deputy and suspect, Ellis said, he realized the officer might not realize he was attempting to help and worried for a minute that his actions might be mistaken for a threat.

“I didn’t want to get too close and scare him. He’s pursuing the bad guy, and I’m pursuing him. The guy took off toward the right, and that’s when I yelled to (Sergeant Keith) Peterson that he had backup,” Ellis said.

A few other civilians became part of a small group who helped the sergeant by the end of the foot pursuit. Ellis estimated the chase lasted for about half a mile.

“It was fairly cold, and running that far reminded me I need to run more often, probably. By the time we caught him, I was glad he didn’t run any further, because I was tired of running,” Ellis said, laughing.

He was particularly unprepared for the sudden burst of activity, having been in his vehicle for hours that day coming home from Tennessee.

“I wasn’t quite ready for that, but I did what I had to do,” he said.

Ellis grabbed one of the suspect’s arms, and the deputy grabbed the other. Together, they were able to detain and cuff the suspect, who, according to Ellis, kept trying to resist arrest.

Together, the deputy and civilian backup were able to handle the situation while they awaited more backup from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, who, according to Ellis, were unable to reach the scene more quickly.

Perhaps part of Ellis’s reaction came from the fact that his brother is a police officer, he said.

Most of all, he said, he thinks he made the choice simply because he recognized he needed to help “good” win in the situation.

“As the saying goes, the only thing that it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing. There were plenty of people sitting in their cars and pulling out their phones to videotape the altercation for whatever social media platforms they wanted to post it to. But I wasn’t going to sit idly by and let evil win,” he said.

Although he didn’t do it for recognition, Ellis said it felt good to be honored by the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office. On April 1, Ellis was presented with an Outstanding Citizenship certificate during a pinning ceremony at the sheriff’s office.

“For that brief time, I got to experience what a lot of our officers experience on a daily basis: that you are willing to risk your well-being to help somebody that you didn’t know. That doesn’t make me an outstanding citizen, because the police do that daily,” Ellis said.

Ellis said he hopes his actions can be a positive example to his four children and inspire others not to be inactive when faced with a situation in which they could be a force for good.

Peterson, who has worked for the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office for two years, said the incident began when he responded to a call about a vehicle wreck. Since he was nearby, not far outside the Town of Bedford on Moneta Road, he responded to the call that came across his radio.

Shortly before the call, Peterson said he had seen a man walking down the road. That’s not an unusual sight, so he thought nothing of it — until he heard the man identified as the one whose vehicle was involved in the reported wreck. Nobody else was involved in the crash, Peterson said. The car ran off the road and damaged a guard rail, but that seemed to be the extent of the incident.

Peterson pulled over and approached the man walking down the road, wanting to talk with him. But the man kept trying to walk past, Peterson said, so he held out his arm in an attempt to stop him and continue trying to speak with him. Then, Peterson said, the man assaulted him.

“We began to scuffle, and he started throwing punches. We started fighting in the middle of Moneta Road. He tried to grab my leg, tried to push me onto the ground, punched me in the side of the head,” Peterson said.

After an initial struggle, the subject stopped and continued up the road before looking over his shoulder and breaking into a run, refusing to comply with Peterson’s commands, Peterson said.

As he pursued the subject, knowing officers with the Virginia State Police were on the way and having radioed in that he had been assaulted by the subject, Peterson said he heard someone shout that he had backup.

“I knew I had assistance at that point in time,” Peterson said. “I was focused on him (the subject) exclusively.”

He initially assumed his backup was an officer from some other agency in his jurisdiction, as area agencies often cross paths.

Only when the pursuit was ended and the subject successfully detained did Peterson realize it was civilians providing his backup. Ellis, along with a couple other individuals, assisted him in detaining the man, who Peterson said resides in the southern area of Bedford County.

“I realized none of them were police officers. They were all citizens,” Peterson said. “Pretty much right then, my fellow officers arrived.”

The subject was eventually charged by state police with traffic-related offenses pertaining to the vehicle crash, and charged with obstruction and felony assault on law enforcement by the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, Peterson said.

“The community support is so important, in all aspects of our profession,” Peterson said. “Knowing that people in the community support what we do, support us as law enforcement officers to the point where they could potentially put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe, I mean, that’s huge.”

Bedford County Sheriff Mike Miller said he was grateful to see citizens stepping up to help a local law enforcement officer.

“We always know that our citizens have our back,” Miller said.

For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, The News & Advance.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.