Mental patient was shot four times during March escape attempt, autopsy shows

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2013 

— Wake County sheriff’s deputies fired four gunshots that killed a 35-year-old man who apparently tried to escape from involuntary commitment by fleeing in a stolen law enforcement vehicle in March.

An autopsy report made public Monday from the state medical examiner’s office in Raleigh also showed that deputies deployed a Taser to subdue Jonathan Lee Cunningham of Durham.

The incident occurred at 8:30 a.m. March 31, when Deputy Jeremy Pittman arrived at the Wake County Crisis and Assessment Center to take Cunningham to Old Vineyard Hospital in Winston-Salem, a nearly two-hour trip.

Twenty minutes into the trip, Cunningham attempted to overpower Pittman, who then stopped the car near Lake Boone Trail on Interstate 440, according to the sheriff’s office. The fight spilled from the car onto the roadside, where the deputy slipped in mud, apparently giving Cunningham a chance to take the car, the report states.

In the ensuing pursuit, officers from the Raleigh Police Department, Morrisville Police Department, State Highway Patrol and Wake County Sheriff’s Office chased Cunningham west along I-40 to I-540, driving faster than 80 mph at times, according to the sheriff’s office.

Cunningham drove near the Leesville Road exit before losing control of the car and driving into the woods off the right side of the road. Officers overtook him as he ran from the scene, leading to a fight in which he “actively” resisted officers, according to the sheriff’s office’s account.

According to the autopsy report, pathologists found a probe from a Taser in Cunningham’s lower right back. He was shot four times – in the right side of his back, through the left shoulder, and twice in the upper chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The sheriff’s office placed two deputies, Matthew Johnson and Dusty Mullen, on administrative duty after the incident while the SBI investigated. That is standard practice when an officer is involved in a shooting.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Monday the SBI investigation of the shooting is not yet complete.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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