CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The defense attorney for a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer accused of hitting and killing a Central Piedmont Community College student with his patrol car said a recently upgraded felony charge against his client is too much.
A grand jury indicted Officer Phillip Barker last month on a charge of felony involuntary manslaughter in James Michael Short’s death.
Barker was originally charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.
Authorities said Barker, 24, was going 100 mph in a 30 mph zone when he fatally struck Short, 28, in July on Morehead Street near Dilworth Neighborhood Grille. Investigators said that Barker was responding to a crash at the time of the collision.
(James Michael Short)
Police said dash camera video and other evidence showed that Short, who was legally drunk, was crossing at a red light and the officer had a green light; but Police Chief Kerr Putney emphasized that the excessive speed warranted charges against Barker in the first place.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have strict rules when it comes to emergency responses.
The rules state that the officer's speed must always be reasonable and prudent, and the department doesn't feel going 100 mph to an accident with minor injuries qualifies.
That goes to another criterion, which is the seriousness of the call for service.
An officer responding to a man chasing someone with a gun would get a lot more latitude.
The rules state that the officer will reduce the speed of the police vehicle when approaching an intersection in that type of emergency.
On Thursday, Mike Greene, the defense attorney representing Barker, said that he believes the felony charge against his client is too much. Greene said a conviction could cost Barker his career as a police officer, and even send him to prison.
“I think it's an overreach,” Greene said. “I also think he's being treated far differently than other people who've also been charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle.”
Channel 9 contacted the district attorney’s office for a statement, but officials are not commenting because Barker’s case is pending.
Greene said he’s convinced that Barker was doing his job and not committing a crime the day of the deadly crash, and expects he may well be making that case to a jury someday.
Barker's next court date isn't until February, and it may be summer before he's due to enter a plea in the case. A trial, if it goes to one, likely wouldn't happen for a year or more.
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