NC Probes Shooting of Deaf Driver 08/24 06:27
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The North Carolina Highway Patrol is urging people
not to jump to conclusions as state agents investigate how a deaf driver with a
history of minor offenses ended up dead after leading a trooper on a 10-mile
The family of Daniel Kevin Harris said he was unarmed and suggested the
sequence of events last week was a tragic misunderstanding --- the type the
state's training manual warns troopers to avoid when dealing with the hearing
The investigation into the shooting is ongoing, Secretary Frank Perry of the
state Department of Public Safety said in a news release.
"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
Authorities haven't said why Trooper Jermaine Saunders fired, and a review
of public records shows a few traffic charges against Harris from other states,
including damaging his employer's vehicle with his own car after he was fired
last year, according to a Denver police report.
Last Thursday's incident started when Harris did not pull over as Saunders
turned on his blue lights on Interstate 485 near Charlotte about 6:15 p.m. and
ended after Harris drove down several miles of surface streets to his home. The
trooper was trying to pull him over for speeding.
North Carolina's Basic Law Enforcement Training manual has a section that
deals with interacting with deaf drivers. "Keep your eyes on the person's
hands," it reads. "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."
The victim's family said Harris likely didn't understand the officer's
Harris' family said they want to make sure the incident is investigated
thoroughly and also want the state to make changes so officers will immediately
know they are dealing with a hearing-impaired driver.
Authorities have released little information about the investigation,
including any possible body camera or dashboard camera footage or whether a gun
was found near Harris. Saunders has been placed on administrative leave. A
spokeswoman for the SBI didn't respond Tuesday to questions, including whether
authorities have interviewed Saunders yet.
Harris' family is raising money for his funeral and will put any extra money
toward educating police officers on interacting with hard-of-hearing people and
calling for a computerized system to alert officers they are dealing with a
deaf driver, according to the family's posting on YouCaring.com.
"You don't see deafness the way that you see the difference in race. We need
to change the system," Harris' brother Sam said to reporters using sign
language and an interpreter after a Monday night vigil.
Sam Harris is deaf, and so are his brother's parents and other family
members. They signed with each other as an Associated Press reporter knocked on
their door Tuesday.
Sam Harris didn't want to talk Tuesday but wrote a note leaving an email
address for an interpreter, who said no interviews could be conducted that day.
A review by The Associated Press shows Harris had been charged with traffic
offenses and other misdemeanors in three states.
In 2015, Denver police were called to Shafer Commercial Seating after Harris
was fired. Officials at the chair and tabletop manufacturer said Harris "got
very mad and stormed out" after being fired, hitting an employer's vehicle with
his own car causing light damage, according to a police report.
A warrant was issued, but never served, but it wasn't clear why. No one
answered the phone at Shafer Commercial Seating after hours Tuesday.
Also in Denver, Harris had traffic stops in 2015 and 2008. The five
misdemeanor charges filed in 2008 included obstructing a peace officer; all
those charges were dropped. It's unclear what happened with the 2015 charge.
He was arrested twice in Florida in 2010 --- once for petit theft and once
for speeding. A charge of resisting an officer was dropped. That year he
pleaded no-contest to petit theft and guilty to speeding.
And in December of that same year, he pleaded guilty to interfering with or
resisting police in Watertown, Connecticut.
The National Association of the Deaf works with law enforcement agencies to
improve existing training manuals but doesn't have one of its own, CEO Howard
Rosenblum said in an email.
The NAD supports intensive training for law enforcement officers on dealing
with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and says some officers should be
trained to communicate in American Sign Language.
Harris was white, and authorities haven't revealed Saunders' race.