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Deadly Force Examined in Durham Teen's Shooting Death

Posted December 5, 2006

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— Did New Hanover County sheriff's deputies comply with state law governing the use of deadly force when they shot and killed a local college student while serving a warrant for his arrest?

The local district attorney and State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the matter, in which Peyton Brooks Strickland, 18, of Durham, was shot multiple times. Six deputies accompanied University of North Carolina at Wilmington police to execute the warrant and to search Strickland's house.

Strickland and a friend, Ryan David Mills, were wanted on armed robbery charges in connection with the Nov. 17 theft of two PlayStation3 consoles from a UNC-W student.

Strickland, who witnesses said was unarmed, died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Three officers, who are part of a 23-member emergency response team, were placed on paid leave while the case is under investigation. The team is similar to what is commonly referred to as a SWAT team, an acronym for "special weapons and tactics."

The sheriff's office will not release the names of the deputies.

New Hanover County Sheriff Sid Causey called the need for deputies to back up UNC-W officers a safety issue, but did not specify what the safety issue was.

Another search warrant stated that Strickland had a previous felony assault on his record from August in which he allegedly broke a man's jaw.

In a search warrant justifying the need for the high-risk tactics, officers said Mills, who lived at a different address, was known to carry a firearm and was pictured on the Internet with assault rifles, shotguns and pistols.

"The problem is that intelligence is often imperfect, and sometimes you don't know what's on the other side of that locked door," said retired police Detective Chris Morgan, who worked at the Raleigh Police Department for nearly 30 years.

Although each law enforcement agency in North Carolina has its own policies regarding the use of physical force upon another person, every officer is bound by state statutes on when it is legal to use deadly force.

The statute, in part, states that officers can use deadly physical force to defend themselves or a third party, to arrest a person who poses an imminent danger to others or to prevent the escape of a convicted felon.

Morgan said it is important for law-enforcement officers to understand the law.

"You always plan on encountering, at least, the worst-case scenario," he said.

Morgan said that more people resist arrest, which means many officers go into raids with a big show of force.

"They do what very few people do," he said. "They make life-and-death decisions -- decisions with life-and-death consequences -- in a split second."

Friday's shooting is not the first in which the sheriff's office's emergency response team was involved in a fatal shooing. In April 2005, Deputy Donald Warnick shot a man during an early-morning standoff. The SBI found Warnick did nothing inappropriate and no charges were filed.

Statewide, in the past five years, there have been 171 police shootings, 65 of which were fatal.

Meanwhile, Strickland's family members and the Wilmington community are seeking answers about what happened to cause officers to fire multiple times.

Strickland's roommate, Mike Rhoton, told a Wilmington newspaper that on the night of the shooting, he and Strickland were playing video games when Strickland went to answer a knock at the door. Strickland might have had a game controller in his hand when he went to the door, Rhoton said.

According to a search warrant, bullet fragments were recovered from the house after the shooting, as well as drug paraphernalia. The warrant, however, did not list any firearms.

New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David has not said whether Strickland had a weapon or whether authorities thought he had a weapon.

David has declined to discuss the details of the case but has said that it is his priority to determine whether the actions taken by authorities were justified.

"No one is above the law, and no one is beneath its protection," David said Monday.

On Tuesday, he met with Strickland's parents at their Durham home to brief them on the case and to assure them that the case is being handled properly.

According to family spokesman Don Beskind, the family appreciated David's visit.

Strickland was a studying welding at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington. His funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Durham.
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