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Autopsy: Mentally ill man shot four times by law enforcement

Posted May 20, 2013

Jonathan Lee Cunningham (Photo courtesy of Josh Wilkerson)
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— A man with a mental illness who was shot by Wake County sheriff's deputies in March died of multiple gunshot wounds, including one at contact range, according to an autopsy report released Monday.

Jonathan Lee Cunningham, 35, was being transported by a deputy to a Winston-Salem psychiatric facility on March 31 when he got into a fight with the deputy, took off in his patrol car and led authorities on a chase on Interstates 40 and 540 in Raleigh.

Cunningham crashed and ran away on foot and, after another struggle with authorities, was shot and killed.

Monday's autopsy report found Cunningham was shot four times – three times in the chest and once in the shoulder – causing injuries to his lungs and heart.

The contact-range gunshot wound, the results of a gun's muzzle being held against the body at the time of discharge, was to the right back.

There was also an injury from the use of a conducted energy device, such as a stun gun, the report noted.

The two deputies involved in the shooting –Matthew Johnson and Dusty Mullen – have been placed on administrative duty while the State Bureau of Investigation investigates, which is standard protocol in an officer-involved shooting.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said after Cunningham's death that policies regarding involuntary psychiatric commitments would also be reviewed.

Jeremy Pittman, the deputy transporting Cunningham, had allowed him to sit unrestrained in the front of his patrol car, which isn't uncommon in such cases if the person being transported is calm, Harrison said.

"In the next couple of months, we're going to be coming up with some different ways of doing things," he said in an interview Friday. "So we probably will be handcuffing everybody, from now on, until I decide exactly how we're going to do it."

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  • wcnc May 21, 2013

    Very few of the facts of this situation have been given, yet there are some on here who think they know all that happened and have made assumptions about the situation and the deputies based on information they don't even know. An autopsy report is not the entire timeline of events. How about we all wait until more information comes out before we assume that we know what we're talking about?

  • LuvLivingInCary May 21, 2013

    i'm sure when that officer put the nozzle up to jonathan's back and pulled the trigger he was doing the best he could. even the hogs in a hog farm get better treatment than that.

  • Classified May 21, 2013

    “I sure the Officer was trying to treat this person as a human and not a criminal. So darn do and darn if you don't. It's really amazing how people hate the police, but 911 is the most used number.” lisaclark2

    The safety of an individual is more of a priority than making them feel human so no, it’s not darn do and darn if you don't. Also, to say it’s about how people hate police is rather imperceptive. The police made a fatal decision and Mr. Cunningham lost his life due to it. What does that have to do with hating police?

  • quiturwhining May 21, 2013

    godlygirl, yes, some of us DO have a clue what it's like to work with people who are mentally ill. Folks, lots of people--people you may know--suffer from mental illness, don't make out like they're some bizarre species.
    So the policy of seating anyone up front is stupid, hopefully it will change. Meanwhile two men with weapons shot & killed another who was unarmed, & lots of you don't see a problem? As bad as that is, the two men were LEOs who had charge of this citizen. He was in their care. I would like to hear what possible reason they will cite for murdering him.
    Is it hard to be a LEO? Sure. So anyone who can't handle the burden & responsibility to serve & protect, & to carry & use lethal force, shouldn't do it. There are cases of LEOs doing the wrong thing all the time all over the country, why do people defend them no matter what? So it was normal to put him up front .. and then what?? To gun him down when he runs away? That's the bottom line.

  • lisaclark2 May 21, 2013

    I sure the Officer was trying to treat this person as a human and not a criminal. So darn do and darn if you don't. It's really amazing how people hate the police, but 911 is the most used number.

  • pedsrndad May 21, 2013

    I believe in the right to privacy as far as possible but whether or not someone has a mental health problem should be available to Officers when they have to transport or when they are making a traffic stop. Not necessarily the specifics of the problem but enough information to allow them to take special care. If the person has a history of assaults or violence against others, that fact should be immediately available. Our police have a dangerous enough job, they shouldn't have to worry about someone reacting irrationally.

  • Classified May 21, 2013

    “ We weren't there at this incident, but, mental issues or not, the officer is entitled to defend himself/herself, since every confrontation for an LEO is an ARMED confrontation.” pinehorse

    I don’t believe the debate is over the officer’s right to defend himself or the value of one’s life over another. What the debate is about is the degree of stupidity that allowed this confrontation to occur in the first place. Mr. Cunningham for whatever reason needed to be evaluated and the wellbeing of this individual became the responsibility of the police once they accepted the transfer. That responsibility includes not allowing harm to come to him for whatever reason.

  • LuvLivingInCary May 21, 2013

    you can read harrison's comments and trust me that he sees no wrong doing by his department. that is why this needs to go to the grand jury or someone unbiased. this is just another swept under the table case and that's sad.

  • pinehorse May 21, 2013

    Lighfoott3: The flip side to your comment is that as an LEO you deal with people everyday, on a moment's notice, that you have no idea of what they're capabale of doing to you. We weren't there at this incident, but, mental issues or not, the officer is entitled to defend himself/herself, since every confrontation for an LEO is an ARMED confrontation. Wonder what Mr. Cunningham would have done once he had obtained the officer's sidearm?

  • mewuvbb May 21, 2013

    It is unfair to the Sheriff's dept and to the mentally ill, but the Senate wants to propose a cut to the mentally ill, so sad for all involved.

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