Mentally ill patient killed after stealing patrol car


According to the Wake County Sheriff's Office, 35-year-old Jonathan Lee Cunningham of Durham was being transported by Wake County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Pittman around 8:30 a.m. Cunningham had been involuntary committed to the Wake Crisis Center and was being transferred to Old Vineyard Hospital in Winston-Salem. At the deputy's discretion, the patient was not handcuffed and was riding in the front seat.

Around 20 minutes later, Cunningham tried to overpower Pittman while driving, so Pittman pulled off onto the side of the road. Cunningham proceeded to get out of the car and Pittman followed him. A struggle ensued and the deputy slipped in mud, allowing Cunningham to jump in the driver's seat and take off in the patrol car.

Law enforcement spotted the car near the NC State Fairgrounds and they tried to get him to stop. When he didn't, deputies followed the car down I-40 westbound and then onto I-540 eastbound.

Several organizations responded to the chase, which was in excess of 80 mph. Officials said they used stop sticks, but they did not work.

Shortly after passing Glenwood Avenue, Cunningham lost control of the vehicle and crashed off the side of the road. He fled into the woods on foot where he was overtaken. After fighting and resisting officers, Cunningham was shot. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Cunningham's family told ABC11 he was non-violent and they described him as kind and generous. They said his struggle with mental health began about a year ago.

Officials have not said who fired the shot that killed the patient. Deputy Matthew Johnson, who has been a member of the sheriff's office since October 2010 and Deputy Dusty Mullen, who has been a member of the sheriff's office since August 2004 have been placed on administrative duty.

Cunningham's death is under investigation by the SBI as an officer-involved shooting.

Deputy Mullen has been investigated as the result of an officer involved shooting in the past.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison told ABC11 that sometimes using handcuffs further upsets patients in these kinds of situations. The deputy involved in Sunday's incident may have decided to allow him to ride without handcuffs as a way to keep the patient calm during transport. The sheriff said they may review their policy after this incident.

The deputy who was originally transporting the suspect was not seriously injured in the scuffle. One officer was reportedly taken to the hospital, but was treated for high blood pressure at the scene.

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