Daniel Kevin Harris, a deaf man, was shot to death by a North Carolina state trooper after stopping his car in the driveway of his home. Trooper Jermaine Saunders had attempted to pull Harris over for speeding on I-485 at approximately 6:14 p.m.on August 18. For as yet undetermined reasons, Harris did not stop but instead drove home in the University area of Charlotte. During a brief pursuit, both Harris’ and Saunder’s vehicles were damaged.
According to police, Harris descended from his automobile in his driveway. In some media reports, it has been suggested that Harris tried to communicate to the officer with sign language. Harris was not armed.
In a report by WCNC television news, neighbor Mark Barringer saw the Officer Saunder’s patrol car and noted that it was “smoking really bad.” He told WCNC news that Harris’ car “spun out of control” at the scene and that he “was shot almost immediately after exiting the vehicle.”
It was about 10 seconds later, Barringer said, that he heard a gunshot. Barringer went to get a closer look and saw Harris in the street. “He died just a few feet from his front door,” Barringer said. Neighbor Barringer said the sight was “surreal.” “When the gunshot went off,” he said, “it was scary.” Harris died at the scene with one gunshot wound.
According to a report from WCCB television news, Saunders has said he shot Harris because he was advancing and not following commands.
Police say that Harris and Saunders engaged in an encounter before the officer’s service pistol was fired. According to a statement by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, “While on Seven Oaks Drive, the driver exited his vehicle and an encounter took place between the driver and the trooper causing a shot to be fired.” The North Carolina Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement are looking into the case.
Of the shooting, witness Barringer said that police should have received training to de-escalate the situation should they encounter handicapped citizens. He said, “To me, what happened is totally unacceptable.” Frank Perry, who heads the office that oversees the state police, called on citizens to wait for the results of an internal investigation rather than jumping to conclusions.
Jay Harris, who used sign language to communicate with a reporter from a local news station, believes his brother was unaware that Trooper Saunders was seeking to stop him. “He was unarmed - and he is a deaf individual, and I think that he was just afraid,” he said.
“He could not hear their warnings,” Jay Harris said. “He could not hear their commands to stop or to stay away from them.” He also said that their mother has been hospitalized with a heart condition ever since his brother’s shooting death. “He was shot, and now we’re left with nothing,” he said.
Harris was the father of an infant son.
Officer Saunders is now on administrative leave. The State Bureau of Investigation is seeking to obtain any dashcam or bodycam footage that can be reviewed to determine the circumstances of the shooting.
Public records show that a sign-language interpreter provided sign language assistance to Harris at a court hearing in Florida in 2010. In that case, he was found not guilty of misdemeanor larceny and had a charge of misdemeanor resisting property recovery dismissed, records show. However, Harris was found guilty of resisting an officer in Connecticut while he was living there in 2010.
Harris’ family have set up a fundraising webpage, and have garnered nearly $23,000 for the costs of his cremation and memorial. On the webpage, the family stated, “He was unarmed when shot and killed by a state trooper. His tragic death could have been prevented. Police brutality ends NOW.”
The Harris family is hoping to create a foundation that would “educate and provide law enforcement [with] proper training on how to confront deaf people.’” The family want the states to require that when a vehicle license plate is looked up by police, that a ‘DEAF’ alert would appear.
Daniel Kevin Harris, 29, was shot dead following a 'brief encounter with an officer who pulled him over for speedinghttps://t.co/DyIMr5WRCC
Shaun King -- a correspondent at New York Daily News, and a former Black Lives Matter activist -- said that because Harris could not have heard Trooper Saunder’s siren, that the shooting is “hard to justify.” He insisted that shooting Harris could not have been Saunder’s only option, while asking why a taser or pepper spray were not used instead. “Virtually any other option the officer could've considered was better than what he chose in this case, but here we are with another avoidable casualty of police violence.”
King, whose activism and writing has been marked by concerns about race and racism in the United States, did not mention the issue of race in the Harris-Saunders case. Harris was white. Saunders is black.