The shooting of a deaf North Carolina man in Charlotte after a high-speed chase on the Interstate and on surface streets in August drew outrage from anti-police agitators and advocates for the disabled alike as they claimed that Daniel Harris was shot and killed unlawfully while trying to communicate with Trooper Jermaine Saunders via sign language.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol state trooper that shot and killed a deaf man in northeast Charlotte last August will not face charges for the incident, officials said.
According to Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray, Trooper Jermaine Saunders’ use of deadly force was not unlawful during the encounter due to Saunders’ belief that Daniel Harris posed an imminent threat.
Murray elaborated in documents filed Monday that the critical inquiry in the case is whether it reasonably appeared to Saunders that deadly force was necessary and that the document specifically does not address issues relating to tactics or whether the trooper followed correct police procedures or Highway Patrol directives.
The incident occurred on August 18, 2016 following a traffic stop that turned into a chase on I-485 that continued to Rocky River Road before ending at Seven Oaks Drive. Saunders told SBI detectives that Harris exited his vehicle and sprinted directly toward him with a metal object in his right hand. When Harris got within 2-4 feet of Saunders, the trooper fired one shot, striking Harris in the chest.
Harris’s incredibly dangerous behavior put dozens of lives at risk in a high-speed chase in excess of 100 MPH that save Harris wreck once on his own, and also saw Trooper Saunders spin his vehicle out twice with a PIT maneuver. Both times Trooper Saunders try to take Harris into custody at gunpoint, only for Harris to get back on the road and drive recklessly. When Harris finally stopped his vehicle near his home, he then attacked Trooper Saunders as the Trooper attempted to retreat behind a drawn gun (PDF).
On August 18, 2016, at approximately 6:10 p.m., Trooper Saunders was on duty and in a marked State Highway Patrol vehicle when he observed a blue Volvo pass him at 88 mph. Trooper Saunders immediately activated his blue lights and began to follow the blue Volvo. The driver of the blue Volvo, who was subsequently identified as Harris, fled from the trooper for several miles, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph. Multiple witnesses on I-485 and Rocky River Road observed portions of the chase.1 They described reckless driving, high rates of speed and debris coming off of the blue Volvo. Witnesses described the blue Volvo swerving in and out of traffic and barely missing other vehicles on several occasions. The accounts of witnesses who saw the events leading to this shooting are addressed below. Harris wrecked the Volvo once on his own and Trooper Saunders spun the Volvo out two other times as he attempted to end the chase. At each of these points, Trooper Saunders confronted Harris at gunpoint, trying to get him out of the vehicle. Harris fled, driving the heavily damaged Volvo until he stopped on a residential street. It was there that Harris charged Trooper Saunders and was killed. Three individuals other than Trooper Saunders witnessed the actual shooting.
The 132-page report is very detailed, and is very clear that Daniel Harris knew he was being pursued, that he put dozens of lives at risk, and that Trooper Saunders acted reasonably when Daniel Harris charged at him while attempting to conceal a metal object in his hand which turned out to be a carbiner.
Trooper Harris retreated behind his car as Harris charged him, and did not fire until Harris was right on top of him. Forensics later determined the distance to be within seven feet (Saunders estimated 2-4 feet), and the witness best positioned to see that incident says that he thought Harris was just an arm’s length away with his arm raised when Saunders fired a single shot.
Being deaf had nothing at all to do with the death of Daniel Harris. Harris did not attempt to communicate with Trooper Saunders via American Sign Language (ASL) or any other means. He simply charged the trooper with an upraised hand holding a metal object.
Trooper Saunders was trained, as most law enforcement officers are, to draw his service weapon when conducting a high-risk felony stop. That was the correct weapon for the situation, and the weapon Saunders had in his hand as Harris charged. It’s absurd to assert that Saunders had the time or any reason to re-holster his handgun as he tried to retreat and ordered Harris to stop at gunpoint as he was being charged from a car-length away. Given the time, distance, and circumstances, Saunders did what he had to do when he fired at the last split second when he reasonably believed Daniel Harris posed a deadly force threat.
While I feel a great deal of empathy for Mr. Harris’s family, it was Daniel Harris’s actions over a period of eight minutes that put dozens of lives at risk, and it was his decision to attack Trooper Saunders that cost him his life.