No charges for police in student shooting

Courtland Smith (Photo courtesy The Daily Tar Heel)

December 4, 2009 6:36:22 PM PST
A district attorney says police officers involved in the shooting death of a UNC fraternity president were justified in using deadly force.

Courtland Smith, 20, of Houston, Texas, died on August 23 along Interstate 85 in Randolph County when police shot him shortly after he called 911 to report he was armed with a 9mm pistol and was feeling suicidal.

Now, Randolph County District Attorney Garland Yates says the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has concluded its investigation of the incident. Yates said Friday that Archdale police officer Jeremy Paul Flinchum believed "he faced an imminent use of deadly force," and firing at Smith was "entirely reasonable."

Click here to read Yates' ruling (.pdf)

Smith was the chapter president of the UNC-Chapel Hill Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. In the early morning hours of August 23, he called 911 while driving on I-85 through Guilford and Randolph counties. He told the 911 operator he was armed with a gun.

Click here to listen to the recording

"I'm trying to kill myself on I-40," Smith told the 911 operator.

Smith's speech was slow, halting, and slurred. The operator began to ask Smith a series of questions to try and figure out where he was and what kind of car he was driving.

The Archdale Police Department was dispatched to find Smith. Flinchum and Officer D. Jones eventually stopped him on Exit 108 in Randolph County. Officers said Smith did not stay in his SUV despite being instructed to do so.

"Both officers drew their service pistols and immediately gave Mr. Smith several commands to stay in the car and show his hands. Mr. Smith put both hands behind his back and ignored officer's commands to show his hands," wrote Yates in his ruling.

Yates said the officers took cover behind their cars while they tried to talk Smith into following their orders. Yates said Smith advanced on the officers several times with one or more hands behind his back. The last time he advanced, Smith pulled something black in color from behind his back and that's when Flinchum shot him.

SBI agents later determined the object in Smith's hand was a Blackberry cell phone.

Yates said an autopsy revealed Smith's blood-alcohol level was .22. The legal limit for a driver to be considered impaired in North Carolina is .08. Investigators found a half empty 750ml bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in Smith's Toyota 4Runner.

Yates said considering the officers had been told by dispatchers that Smith was armed and suicidal, plus Smith's aggressive actions, he's closing the book on the investigation.

"It was reasonable for Officers Jones and Flinchum to assume from Mr. Smith's actions that he was concealing a weapon behind his back," wrote Yates. "Finally, Officer Flinchum only fired on Courtland Smith when he suddenly drew his hand from behind his back while holding a black object."

Following Friday's news, DKE Alumni Advisor Chris Rice released a statement on behalf of Smith's fraternity brothers.

    As you can imagine, the loss of Courtland has been a huge loss for our brothers and his friends. I think we should take time again to think of Courtland's parents and his brother, Walker, and the terrible loss they have experienced and now the memories of a horrific night get replayed. For them we say we are so sorry.

    We miss our friend and brother more than most can imagine. As a fraternity we are doing our best to be together and support one another and will continue to do so as Courtland would want us to move forward. As you probably know we are building a Habitat for Humanity House in his memory and, additionally, I can assure you that Courtland would be so proud of the job his brothers did decorating the DKE house for Christmas. We believe Courtland would love it, and he would have been leading the effort.

    Again, our hearts go out to Pharr, Susan, and Walker Smith. We hurt so much that it is extremely difficult for us to imagine how they feel. The DKE House is trying to heal and whatever we can do for the Smith's it will be our pleasure and honor.

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