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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 
chase.

   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 
impaired.

   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 
Highway Patrol.

   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 
commands.

   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.


(KA)

 
 
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