A handicapped, deaf and speech-impaired man was shot and killed by North Carolina state troopers for not ‘following orders’ during a police stop.
Daniel Kevin Harris, 29, was stopped for a speeding violation and ended up dead while trying to communicate with the police using sign language.
Daily Mail reports:
Daniel Kevin Harris, 29, who has a four-year-old son, was killed just feet from his home in Charlotte by trooper Jermaine Saunders on Thursday evening.
Police say Saunders tried to pull Harris over for a speeding violation on Interstate 485 at around 6.15pm, but the driver led authorities on a brief pursuit before stopping.
Officials said that’s when the driver got out of his car and an encounter took place between the driver and the trooper, causing a shot to be fired. Harris died at the scene.
But witnesses said Harris – who was unarmed – was shot ‘almost immediately’ after he exited his vehicle, WCNC reports.
They also say he appeared to be trying to communicate with the trooper using sign language.
However, Saunders has said he shot Harris because he was advancing and not following commands, WCCB reports.
But Harris’ immediate family, who are also hearing impaired, think he was ‘just afraid’ and not understanding the situation.
Jay Harris, who spoke to the local station through a sign language interpreter, believes his brother was not aware that troopers were trying to pull him over.
‘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. He could not hear their commands to stop or to stay away from them.’
He added that his mother has been in the hospital with a heart issue since the shooting. ‘He was shot, and now we’re left with nothing,’ Jay said.
Neighbors blasted the decision to ‘shoot first, ask questions’ later.
‘You’re pulling someone over who is deaf, they are handicapped. To me, what happened is totally unacceptable,’ neighbor Mark Barringer told the local station.
‘They should have de-escalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation.’
A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police report identified Harris as hearing and speech impaired, but did not give further details about his impairments.
Saunders was placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure after an officer-involved shooting.
State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Audria Bridges said agents will interview Saunders this week.
However, the SBI report doesn’t mention that Harris is impaired.
The police report identifies Harris as white. Bridges said she was uncertain of the trooper’s race.
Harris’ family have set up a fundraising page since his death, which has raised almost $5,000 so far, for his memorial and cremation costs.
In a post on the page, they say: ‘He was unarmed when shot and killed by a state trooper.
‘His tragic death could have been prevented. Police brutality ends NOW.’
They also plan to set up a foundation in his name to ‘educate and provide law enforcement [with] proper training on how to confront deaf people.’
The family also hope to change the DMV registration system to require states to set up a ‘DEAF’ alert to appear when a car’s license plate is looked up.
‘With this change, Daniel will be a hero in our deaf community,’ they add.
Activist Shaun King notes that it’s not clear if Harris understood what was happened in the moments before his death ‘since he could not have heard the sirens’ in his New York Daily News column.
He adds that while some cases of police shootings pose genuine threats to law enforcement, this case is ‘hard to justify.’
‘Beyond being unarmed, deaf and mute, Daniel Harris appears to have been a rather small, thin man,’ he wrote in his column.
King insists opening fire could not have been the trooper’s only option.
‘What threat did Harris pose? Was a Taser or pepper spray used? Could the officer truly not subdue Harris on his own?
‘If reports from neighbors are accurate, it doesn’t appear the officer even tried, but pretty much shot and killed Harris mere seconds after he got out of the car.’
He added: ‘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.
‘Daniel Harris should be alive with a speeding ticket, but instead his family is raising funds for his cremation.’
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