The fatal shooting of Courtland Smith by an Archdale police officer was “legally justified and lawful,” Randolph County District Attorney Garland Yates said Friday.
Yates said in a news release that Smith, a UNC junior who was president of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, advanced on two officers and ignored their orders to stop advancing after Smith was stopped at an exit on I-85 early on the morning of Aug. 23.
According to autopsy results, Smith died of multiple gunshot wounds. The 21-year-old from Houston was pronounced dead at High Point Regional Hospital later that morning.
In the news release, Yates said Officer J.P. Flinchum shot Smith because Flinchum believed he faced “an imminent use of deadly force.”
“It is clear from all the evidence that Officer J.P. Flinchum reasonably believed that he and Officer Jones were in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury when [Flinchum] shot Courtland Smith,” the release stated. “Mr. Smith aggressively advanced on the officers, forcing them to retreat to the rear of their patrol cars twice. He ignored officers’ repeated and clear orders to stop advancing on them and to show his hands.” The second officer was identified as “D. Jones” in the release; he had not been identified previously.
Smith was pulled over after he called police and told a dispatcher that he was contemplating suicide, that he had a gun and that he had been drinking.
The release from the district attorney’s office states that when officers Flinchum and Jones (in separate cars) spotted Smith, he was “weaving erratically” and traveling about 90 miles per hour.
Smith’s car was stopped at 4:54 a.m. The driver’s cell phone continued to pick up the sounds of the officers approaching the vehicle. The driver is heard speaking at the end of the tape, which lasted 15 minutes, 14 seconds.
The release states that about 15 seconds after Smith’s Toyota 4Runner came to a stop, Smith got out of the vehicle and that both officers drew their weapons and ordered him to stay in the car. “Mr. Smith placed both hands behind his back and ignored officers’ commands to show his hands,” the release states. When the officers took cover behind one of their cars, Smith continued to advance toward them and showed one hand but kept the other behind his back.
The release states that at one point Smith was warned that “he was about to get shot.” At one point Smith leaned into the driver’s side of his vehicle and again advanced on the officers. Flinchum fired five shots after Smith “drew his right hand from behind his back while holding something black in color.”
The release says that after the investigation was turned over to the SBI, a BlackBerry phone was found next to where Smith fell and that a half-empty 750-milliliter bottle of whiskey was found in his vehicle. It states that the investigation revealed that Smith had e-mailed his family “indicating suicidal intent.”
On the 911 tape, the caller tells the dispatcher that “I’m trying to kill myself.” He said he had a 9 mm pistol with him. He apparently was confused, thinking he was heading west on I-40. When the dispatcher asked him if he had been drinking, he said, “A little bit.” The conversation lasted more than 10 minutes. The dispatcher repeatedly asked him to pull over.
The State Bureau of Investigation has custody of a videotape taken from one of the officer’s cars and has not released the tape.
Judge Vance Bradford Long concluded that release of the video would undermine the investigation. Long wrote in the ruling that the video did not show Smith being shot “but does portray the interaction between Mr. Smith and the officers immediately prior to the shooting and actions taken by the officers after the shooting.”
Smith’s parents, Pharr ’77 and Susan Smith, have filed two motions with the court asking that the tape not be released.
The fraternity has been sanctioned for alcoholic beverage violations at a party at which Smith was present hours before he was shot.