Mimesis Law
1 March 2021

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.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Leonard
    29 August 2016 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    It’s hard to make a rational decision either way since there is very little information available at this point. Why the chase for 7 miles? Was the suspect actively trying to evade or was this a slow drive. Why didn’t the driver notice the lights? We all know officers go into hyper-aggressive mode when they perceive a flight threat which could have been in the eyes of the officer, thus significantly increasing the risk of a shooting. My general belief is that unless there is a firearm involved and pointed at an officer (generally speaking and real firearms) that all officer shootings are unnecessary. What drives me insane are the amount of OIS that involve edge weapons, rocks, sticks, etc. While suspects carrying these types of weapons are routinely subdued without deadly force in other westernized nations, particularly the UK and Scotland, any of the aforementioned weapons will get you shot and likely killed here. It highlights the problem with hyper-vigilence the discretion that we give officers today. It’s far easier to draw a firearm and claim “I feared for my life” than expose oneself to any type of risk.

  • Alexander
    31 August 2016 at 8:52 am - Reply

    More news coming out today. Deaf or not, this guy was a menace who tried to evade police by driving upwards to 100mph. Could’ve killed innocent people. Too bad he had to die, but he was a stupid man who made bad decisions. I certainly won’t mourn him.

    • angrychiatty
      31 August 2016 at 12:14 pm - Reply

      Can you please post a news link or any other source backing up the “driving upwards to 100mph” statement? Or is that claim just as horseshit as the rest of your ridiculous comment?

      Its generally my viewpoint that we don’t blow people away for violating the law, even if they were “stupid.” Generally, we like to see people “arrested” (alive) and given what we call a “trial.”

  • Fault Lines Friday Fail
    16 September 2016 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    […] the Fault Lines contributors. Last week’s “winner” was the North Carolina State Trooper who shot a deaf man for not complying with verbal commands. Check out this week’s top 5 fails and pick your […]