Did Daniel Kevin Harris Have To Die?
August 25, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A Charlotte, NC State trooper fatally shot an unarmed deaf man on Thursday evening after he failed to pull over for a routine traffic stop. Daniel Kevin Harris, 29, died at the scene, a few steps away from his home. State Trooper Jermaine Saunders has been put on temporary administrative leave, pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation.
The Charlotte P.D. has released little information about the investigation so far and has remained quiet about the possible existence of body camera or dashboard footage of the incident. It has not revealed what, if anything, the two men said or otherwise communicated to each other, or whether Saunders knew that Harris was deaf. It’s unknown if Mr. Harris was carrying a firearm when he was shot.
Here’s what we do know so far. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol confirmed that Harris was driving his Volvo on Interstate 485 in the Charlotte area when Officer Saunders attempted to pull him over on suspicion of speeding around 6:15 p.m. on Thursday.
But instead of pulling over, Harris just kept driving. He led Saunders on a 7-mile car chase through his suburban neighborhood that came to a halt when he parked the car in front of his house. Harris got out of the car and started heading to his house. This is when, according to Charlotte P.D., “an encounter” took place between the driver and the trooper that culminated in the fatal shooting of Harris. WCNC reports that witnesses have come forward claiming that the unarmed Harris was shot by Saunders “almost immediately” after getting out his car.
Harris’ death has sparked outrage in the Charlotte community, with many criticizing Saunders’ “shoot first, ask questions” later approach.
Mark Barringer, a neighbor of Harris’ who witnessed part of the confrontation, told NBC affiliate WCNC,
They should’ve deescalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation. You’re pulling someone over who is deaf. They are handicapped.
Frank Perry of the State Department of Public Safety issued a news release asking the public to refrain from passing judgment until they have all the facts.
“Let us all refrain from making assumptions or drawing conclusions prior to the internal and independent reviews” by the patrol, the State Bureau of Investigation and the district attorney, said Perry, whose agency oversees the Highway Patrol.
Mr. Harris’s family believe that David may not have realized that Saunders was trying to pull him over, as he would be unable to hear the siren. Harris would also have problems responding “appropriately” to the officer’s verbal commands once he stopped his vehicle.
“He could not hear their warnings,” Harris’ brother Jay explained. “He could not hear their commands to stop or to stay away from them.”
They also believe that David would still be alive if Saunders had known that he was deaf.
“If the officer had known he was deaf, it would have ended differently,” Daniel Harris’ brother, Sam Harris, told reporters on Monday. “He would still be around with family and life would still be going on.”
People who are deaf or hard of hearing are permitted to drive in North Carolina. Deaf drivers can obtains special cards to give to law enforcement to communicate their impairment, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
However, these “special cards” are essentially useless in a high stake situation where noncompliance is quickly perceived as threat by law enforcement. Many deaf activists are pushing for states to update their DMV registration systems to include alerts that inform police officers that a driver is deaf.
North Carolina’s Basic Law Enforcement Training manual has a section that deals with interacting with deaf drivers. It reads:
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 for a pen and pad in his or her coat pocket or glove compartment. These unfortunate incidents can be prevented by mutual awareness which overcomes the lack of communication.
In this case, the pursuit lasted seven miles. While Harris may have been unable to hear the siren, the question remains why he failed to see, or heed, the flashing lights behind him during the chase, or when he got out of his car following the seven-mile rather than await the officer’s instructions.