The family of a deaf man who was shot dead by a Highway Patrol trooper a week ago in Charlotte, following a seven-mile chase, is understandably impatient. Daniel Harris’ brother, Sam Harris, and his sister, Luci Gale, say their brother wasn’t armed when he was shot outside his home. They believe there may have been a failure in communications between their brother and the trooper. But they want to know.
Authorities say Daniel Harris didn’t stop when Trooper Jermaine Saunders went in pursuit and tried to pull him over. Harris was shot outside his home, which appears to have been his final destination. He may have been confused about what the pursuing trooper wanted, or he may not have heard a siren ... or ... therein lies the problem. The State Bureau of Investigation needs to be prepared for a rapid public response when something like this happens. A man’s life has been lost in an encounter with law enforcement.
The importance of a full accounting, and a timely report, would be important anytime, but are more so in light of deadly encounters with law officers around the country in recent years and months. (That includes, of course, confrontations in which officers were wounded or killed.) Delay only causes more questions to be raised and yes, suspicion on the part of some members of the public that those in authority are trying to protect the officer involved or the agency of which he is a part.
Frank Perry, the FBI veteran who now heads the state Department of Public Safety, said he is mindful of the need to move on with investigations. “In the current climate nationwide,” Perry said, “no one takes a shooting lightly. They were somber events and we have to be methodical and careful and not pre-judgmental. We simply want to know the truth and so does the D.A. and the family and the public.”
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Currently, there are two investigations going on about this tragic incident, one by the Highway Patrol’s internal affairs unit, and the other a criminal investigation b the State Bureau of Investigation under the Charlotte district attorney. Because those investigations involve examination of some of the same evidence and the same witnesses, the process is slowed.
There has been talk of releasing video footage from a body camera and a dashboard camera from the Patrol car, but the Highway Patrol doesn’t yet have body cameras and not all vehicles have been upgraded with dashboard cameras. The car involved in this case unfortunately did not have one.
The Patrol and other law agencies do train officers in how to deal with those with physical handicaps such as deafness. But Harris’ relatives indicated they believe law enforcement should do more in that area, and they may be right. For now, however, the public awaits, and is entitled to, the complete story of what happened last week in Charlotte.