Thursday, September 3, 2009

The death of Courtland Benjamin Smith

Photo of Courtland Smith from The Daily Tar Heel.

Pretty shocking story out of Chapel Hill, late last month. Nobody seems to know exactly what happened early Sunday morning, August 23rd, on I-85 in Archdale, North Carolina, where Courtland Benjamin Smith, 21-year-old University of North Carolina student, was shot to death by police. He was a junior biology major from Texas and president of the UNC chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

He was driving drunk on I-85, although he claimed to be on I-40. Maybe he didn't know exactly where he was.

He called 911 and said he had a gun. There is now doubt that he had one, and his father says he didn't own one.

I have not listened to all 17 minutes of the 911 call, and don't think I could bear it. But Cedar Posts in Charleston did, and describes it:

Before the tape stops you can hear Cortland Smith say "whoa" several times and in the back ground the officers shouting commands no doubt with weapons drawn. Then someone yells “Were the “F” are you going?”

There is a sound like he is being pulled back out of the car, a shrill noise and the released tape goes silent.

What is not heard is the sound of gun fire as Cortland Smith exits the car the second time perhaps with a gun.

No doubt the officer over reacted and emptied his weapon hitting Smith 4 times.

No doubt Cortland Smith meant no harm to the officers.

No doubt the 911 dispatcher will never get over what happened.

No doubt.
The Charlotte News and Observer:

A spokeswoman for the State Bureau of Investigation, which routinely investigates shootings involving police, said Wednesday it couldn't release further details about the shooting because the investigation was incomplete.

Despite Smith's claim, it's unclear whether he actually had a gun. Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said in an interview Wednesday that he is not aware of any gun being found on the scene, though his officers left all evidence untouched for the SBI investigation and had not searched Smith's vehicle. Smith's father, Pharr Smith, said in an interview Monday that his son didn't own a gun.

Gibbs said that he wanted to wait for the results of the SBI probe before saying that he was sure his officers had acted properly. But from all he had heard so far, Gibbs said, they followed the right procedures.
They followed the right procedures but he didn't have a gun? Isn't that a contradiction?

From Cedar Posts, August 27th:

The newly released recording from the Archdale Police Department makes it clear that the officers knew little more about Smith than that he was suicidal and might be armed. It includes one officer’s response when Smith is shot, but no gunfire can be heard.

“Stay in the car, stay in the car,” one officer says.

“Subject not getting in the car,” says another.

“Subject down! Subject down! Shots fired, shots fired!”

Then an officer comes on, using standard police code for an ambulance. “We’ve got subject secured. We’ve got shots fired, subject down. Have 10-52 respond.”

He then asks that 102 (Deputy Chief) be contacted.

The last words on the recording are “High Point Hospital.” The hospital where 20 minutes later Smith would be declared dead.
I told you, I can't listen to it.

Cedar updates on September 1st:

SBI continues to review Cortland Smith shooting. Archdale police chief has been quoted as saying the facts are still under review, while the Raleigh News and Observer has filed a FOIA request for release of police video of the traffic stop of Cortland Smith. The matter may be held up for another week. Rumors continue to surface regarding the officer who killed Smith.
That would be one Jeremy Paul Flinchum, 29, now on paid leave from the department.

At least one of the two police cars on the scene was equipped with a dashboard video camera. A Randolph County assistant district attorney had a judge seal the recording Aug. 25.

Five media organizations including [Charlotte] News & Observer are going to court to get a police video recording of the traffic stop in which Smith was shot. The organizations also are asking for an unedited version of the student's 911 call.
Why did they seal the recording? Why are they having to go to court to unseal it? If the cops "followed procedures"--it seems that they would hurriedly show the video to the media to clear the officer of any wrongdoing. The fact that they are obviously hiding it? Well, what have they got to hide?

I'll try to provide updates as they become available. If anyone has any new information to add, please leave in comments.


EDIT and UPDATE: From Cedar Posts, Sept 19th.


Buzzardbilly said...

No matter how you look at it or who did what, this is a tragic end to a life too young. I can't imagine what his family is going through. I can't even imagine what the officer is going through.

I couldn't follow the link to the call either. But, I'll probably end up hearing snippets of it on some true crime documentary show at some point. So sad.

Susan S said...

Courtland was my nephew. He did not have a gun. I don't think there is any way to justify this shooting.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Susan, I am so sorry for your loss, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Marion said...

This is such a sad story. What a tragic end to such a young life. And the officer's life is horribly changed forever. All in an instant.

Susan, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

sheila said...

I HATE stories like these. Lots of cover up going on and it's shameful. Like every profession there's the good and the bad. But this is disgusting.

Doc Righteous said...

This is certainly tragic, but you can't expect the cops to be able to clearly see a gun in the dark as a kid exits a car on the side of a highway.

My bet would be that a kid so drunk he didn't know whether he was on the I-40 or I-85 was probably too drunk to follow the officer's directions for exiting (or not) the car.

And four shots by the police officer is not an over-reaction: It's actually quite restrained. They usually empty their guns: A cop who shoots once to wound and then waits to see what happens is a dead cop.

I think we can assume, as Buzzardbilly wrote, that the police officer is hurting, too. Cops are humans, guys. Don't be so quick to blame. Put yourself in his shoes and imagine how he must have felt when he approached Courtland afterwards and found no gun. You never get over that.

As for the tape, that's evidence. When do you ever see evidence released to the public before an investigation is completed or a trial over? That's not "coverup": It's "not contaminating the jury pool."

JoJo said...

This is so horrible. :`(

Susan S. - My heart goes out to your family. I am so sorry for your loss.

CrackerLilo said...

Susan S., I am really sorry for your family's loss. My condolences.

This is a tragedy no matter what.

Susan S said...

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.

I have sympathy for the policeman also, but the truth is, had he been better-trained, this tragedy wouldn't have happened. Courtland was asking for help, and unless he was an immediate and direct threat, he should not have been shot. I haven't listened to the 911 tape, but apparently there was no confrontation between him and the police. And the fact that the authorities haven't released some of the obvious information leads me to believe they are trying to cover up something.

JoJo said...

The officer could have tased him. I mean, that sucks too, but it wouldn't have killed him. He just need to humanely subdue Courtland, not empty his clip into him. :(

MB Phillips said...

Being the mother of a 19 year old boy, a student at ECU, I have compulsively followed every article and comment about this tragic story from the very morning it occured. I am angry every time I read some account of how Courtland was "suicidal" when in fact, if you hear the parts of the dispatcher's dialogue with him, it's clear that he knew
it was his being on the road in an inebriated condition that was going to kill him if he didn't get some help. Why he couldn't just pull over is something we'll not likely ever know. I didn't know the young man, but I know and love so many others just like him. My prayer is that these young men learn a lesson from this. Drinking can be very dangerous and the police have guns. Be careful out there. God bless Courtland's famly and friends.

Anonymous said...

After listening to the recording of Courtland, I too thought he was not suicidal. He slurred his words, was driving drunk, but I thought he said he wanted someone to ride with him, and pretty much if he kept driving he would kill himself on I40. No suicide, just bad judgement in driving drunk. Cry for help. Police over-reacted.
So tragic. Prayers for his family.

Kim said...

Courtland attended high school with my sons. He was a well mannered, bright, charming and well raised young man. This is truly a tragedy. Susan, my thoughts and prayers are with you and my heart breaks for Courtland's parents and brother.

Anonymous said...

All in the great state of NC should be ashamed at this situation. It has now been months since the shooting and nothing has been released about the results of the investigation.


This young man was only guilty of what millions of other college students have done...he drank too much and then drove. His mistake was calling for help evidently.

There is a public outcry needed here. The facts need to come out without further delay. Where is the outrage at this delay? From the citizens, the university, the students???


Anonymous said...

everyone knows he was drunk, thats the fact. he was not suicidal in any shape or form, fact. what is bs is that someone with just a high school diploma has the right to somehow take the life of someone well too young for it.and the media can all just go screw themselves. have some respect for the family and their best interests