RALEIGH — A North Carolina state trooper won’t be charged for killing a deaf driver who charged at him with a metal object in his hand after a chase with speeds of more than 100 mph, a district attorney said in a report released Monday.
The report by Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray covers the August day when Trooper Jermaine Saunders tried to stop Daniel Harris, who passed the trooper at a speed of 88 mph.
The chase on Aug. 18, 2016, reached speeds of more than 100 mph before the trooper and the driver stopped on a road leading up to Harris’ home in Charlotte, the report says.
After they stopped, Harris charged at the trooper with a metal object — later determined to be metal carabiner, a climbing hook often used as a key ring — in his hand, the report says.
Saunders “had only seconds to decide why Harris was running at him, what the metal object was in Harris’ hand and how to protect himself and prevent his gun from being compromised,” the report says.
Later the report notes that “with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and actual physical evidence, we know that Harris did not have a weapon.”
Saunders couldn’t use his Taser, which was taken for analysis in a previous case and hadn’t been returned to him, the report says, and his pepper spray was in his driver’s side door pocket.
“I was in fear for my life,” Saunders said during his interview with the State Bureau of Investigation.
He said he thought Harris would strike him with a metal object in his hand as he came “straight at me full sprint. It was clear to me he wasn’t going to give up after everything.”
There’s no evidence that Harris’ deafness played a role in the encounter, the report says.
“Given the choices faced by Trooper Saunders, the compressed window of time in which he had to evaluate the situation and act, along with the stress of the situation, I have concluded it was not unreasonable for Trooper Saunders to fire his weapon,” Murray wrote.
His decision doesn’t address issues related to tactics, correct police procedures or Highway Patrol directives.
“The fact that a shooting may be controversial does not mean that criminal prosecution is warranted,” Murray wrote. “Even if the DA believes a shooting was avoidable or an officer did not follow expected procedures or norms, that does not make it criminal.”
Witnesses described Harris’ car, a blue Volvo, as swerving in and out of traffic and barely missing other cars at times. Harris wrecked the Volvo once, and Saunders spun it out twice to try to end the chase.
Each time, Saunders confronted Harris at gunpoint to try to end the chase, the report says.
Harris may have suffered some sort of mental health crisis, the report says. It says Harris said during a court-ordered assessment in 2015 that he had been treated at a psychiatric hospital in Florida for seven years and had had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations in the past.
That assessment was ordered after Harris was stopped for fleeing from an officer in Kansas. He made comments to that officer about “wanting to be with Jesus,” the report says.
Harris said during the assessment that he sometimes “perceives something telling him to stab himself or someone else — he doesn’t know when he last perceived it or whether it is real. At one point he said he does what this something instructs him and that he listens to it for sure — but it only occurs when he has a temper.”