Report released in UNC student shooting

October 16, 2009 6:50:58 AM PDT
The North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner's Office released its autopsy report on the shooting death of UNC student Courtland Smith Thursday. Smith was the chapter president of the UNC-Chapel Hill Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He died August 23rd at the hands of Archdale, NC police officers in a traffic stop at Exit 108 along Interstate 85.

Before he was pulled over, Smith called 911 saying he was feeling suicidal and had a 9mm pistol.

Listen to the 911 call (caution, graphic language)

"I'm trying to kill myself on I-40," Smith told the 911 operator in slow, halting and slurred speech.

The operator asked Smith a series of questions to try and figure out where he was and what kind of car he was driving. The dispatcher continued to talk to Smith until Archdale police officers caught up to his Toyota 4-Runner in Randolph County.

In a recording of radio traffic, officers yelled at him to stay in his SUV.

Click here to listen to the recording

A few seconds later, and officer called in: “Subject down! Subject down!”

In its report released Thursday, The North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner's Office says Smith talked to friends before the shooting about ways to commit suicide.

Click here to read the report (.pdf - caution, graphic content)

It also says officers shot him four times after he made a "suggestive move."

"He got out of the car and made a suggestive move towards his pocket which the police interpreted as a move to get a gun," the reports says. "They then fired on him and he was hit in the abdomen/chest."

The report shows Smith was struck by four bullets. On in the lower abdomen, one in the arm, one in the back, and one in the thigh.

DKE released its own statement Thursday in response to what the medical examiner said. The organization challenges the report that claims Smith was suicidal and that he discussed suicide with his friends prior to the shooting.

"We are dumbfounded by the wording of the autopsy report regarding Courtland Smith's death. We are aware that the toxicology report showed alcohol as the only substance in his system, and it was not a surprise to those who knew him that the tests for other drugs were negative. We are very surprised by Medical Examiner Dr. Gordon Arnold's comments. We are not sure where he heard that Courtland had discussed suicide with his friends. No one we have talked with has mentioned any such conversations. We are also unaware of any history of depression; to the contrary, Courtland was cheerful and optimistic. We are not autopsy experts, but we are confused by these editorial comments made by the local Medical Examiner with no references to his sources.

We are told that Pharr Smith, Courtland's father, tried to contact Dr. Arnold but was referred to the Chief Medical Examiner's office in Chapel Hill. That office acknowledged that statements made by local Medical Examiners in these preliminary reports often turn out to be inaccurate but are nevertheless part of the public record.

This entire situation has created many questions and much sadness for so many, and the comments released today did very little to change this situation for Courtland's friends and family. It is our hope that the Smiths will eventually get satisfactory answers and accurate facts from the county governments and the SBI. This we would hope will give the family, most importantly, some closure and will do the same for Courtland's friends in and out of Chapel Hill."

The NC State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the death. The Archdale Police Department has placed the officer who shot Smith - Jeremy Paul Flinchum - on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. A second officer at the scene - whose name was not released - is also on leave.

Authorities have refused to release dash cam video of the shooting to the media - saying it's evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation. Media outlets - including ABC11 - sued to try and have the tapes made public, but a judge refused.

The Medical Examiner's report lists multiple gunshot wounds as the cause of death and says alcohol and depression were "contributing factors." It says Smith's blood alcohol level was .22. North Carolina considers a person to be impaired and unable to operate a vehicle and .08.

Before his death, the 911 operator who Smith talked to asked him if he'd been drinking.

"Yes, a little bit," he responded.

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