CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cellphone video obtained by Channel 9 is believed to show a portion of the pursuit that ended in the shooting death of a deaf man by a North Carolina Highway Patrol trooper.
Officials with the State Bureau of Investigation have been investigating what caused Trooper Jermaine Saunders to allegedly fire a single fatal shot at Daniel Harris, 29, following the pursuit on August 18.
Harris was deaf, and since the shooting questions have been swirling over whether the incident occurred due to a miscommunication.
On Thursday, a Channel 9 viewer came forward with a 50-second cellphone video and asked to remain anonymous.
The viewer said they reached for their phone after the pursuit passed their car on I-485, and then stopped traffic at the exit ramp to Rocky River Road.
The video shows a blue car stopped perpendicular on the exit ramp, and slightly off the roadway.
A Highway Patrol trooper can be seen standing outside that car's driver side door, while shielding himself behind his cruiser.
Two other unknown men are standing in front of the blue car when suddenly, the driver of the blue car reverses the vehicle, pulls forward and then drives away.
The trooper then runs and gets back into his cruiser and continues to pursue the vehicle.
Channel 9 notified the SBI and State Highway Patrol of the video and investigators with both departments expressed interest in viewing the video.
Preliminary investigations showed Harris failed to stop his car when Trooper Saunders tried to pull him over for speeding on I-485.
An initial release from the Highway Patrol said Harris led the trooper on a nearly 8-mile pursuit that began on I-485 near mile marker 30, and ended outside Harris’s home on Seven Oaks Drive in northeast Charlotte.
The release said Harris exited his car, and that that’s when an encounter took place, leading up to the fatal shot.
The SBI has not yet clarified what that encounter was.
Harris was laid to rest Tuesday. His family has called for change, including a deaf alert that appears when police check or run a license plate.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol’s manual shows that all troopers are trained in how to recognize that someone is deaf, as well as ways to communicate with them. In it is a warning saying, in part, “Keep your eyes on the person’s hands. Deaf people have been stopped by an officer and then shot and killed because the deaf person made a quick move.”
It’s unknown if that’s what happened in this case.
The SBI has yet to confirm the fact that Harris being deaf had anything to do with the pursuit and shooting. The only update, provided Wednesday, was that officials were still gathering video footage of the pursuit and shooting.
Records obtained by the Associated Press show that Harris previously faced a charge of obstructing a peace officer and a charge of resisting an officer. Both of those charges were dropped.
The AP also reports that Harris pleaded guilty to interfering with or resisting police in Connecticut.
Trooper Saunders remains on leave as part of standard procedure.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol also viewed the video.
"We truly appreciate the witness video being shared with us and we are grateful to the citizen who provided it," Col. Bill Grey, commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said. "As the investigations continue, both the internal and the independent State Bureau of Investigation's, we welcome any video or witness statements that will assist us in piecing together everything that happened leading up to the tragic events on the night of Aug. 18. This is an incredibly challenging time for the Harris family, Trooper Saunders and his family, the Highway Patrol and the department as a whole."
People who live near Harris questioned after the shooting whether Harris didn't stop right away because he was deaf.
Scott MacLatchie, a Charlotte attorney and former Los Angeles police officer who now represents officers who've been sued in shootings, said the video proves otherwise.
"There is no way this individual would not know he is being confronted by a state trooper," MacLatchie said.
MacLatchie said unless the driver had visual impairments, the trooper and two other unknown men were sufficient enough to convince Harris not to continue.
He also said between the police chases and the video of this incident at the exit ramp, he believes Saunders was justified in using deadly force if he perceived an imminent threat.
"This person has already demonstrated such a willful disregard of his authority and a reckless disregard for the safety of others by fleeing," he said.
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