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Family: UNC student unarmed, shot four times

Posted August 27, 2009
Updated October 8, 2009

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— The family of a college student who was killed during a weekend traffic stop said Thursday that evidence they have reviewed in the case shows a police officer shot him four times even though he had no weapon.

Archdale Officer Jeremy Paul Flinchum shot Courtland Benjamin Smith, 21, of Houston, shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday off southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County, authorities said.

Smith was a junior majoring in biology at the University of North Carolina and was president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity on the Chapel Hill campus.

Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said Flinchum was dispatched because a caller to 911 was threatening to commit suicide. A second officer arrived on the scene before the shooting, he said.

Police said Smith confronted Flinchum during the traffic stop, and the officer shot Smith, who died at High Point Regional Hospital.

Guilford Metro 911 on Wednesday released a recording of the 17-minute call in which Smith told the dispatcher he was drunk, had a 9-mm handgun and planned to kill himself.

The call ended before the shooting, but Smith told the dispatcher toward the end of the call that two police cars were behind him and he was pulling over. An officer can be heard yelling at him to stay in the car, and he tells them "I've got to pull something out."

In a recording to Archdale police radio communications during the traffic stop, officers can be heard shouting "subject down" and "shots fired" shortly after pulling Courtland Smith over on the highway and ordering him to stay in his car.

Smith's parents, Pharr and Susan Smith, told friends they have reviewed evidence in the case, including an unedited version of the 911 call and details provided by the State Bureau of Investigation.

The SBI, which is handling the case because it's an officer-involved shooting, has declined to comment publicly on its investigation.

In an e-mail to a family friend, Pharr Smith said the evidence shows that his son didn't have a gun with him and that he was shot twice in the abdomen and once each in the arm and leg.

"Sadly, what we have heard, however, is that Courtland was shot only a few minutes after stepping out of his truck, and the officer discharged four shots in rapid succession," Pharr Smith wrote in the e-mail.

Pharr Smith didn't offer an explanation as to why his son would claim in the 911 call to have a gun with him, but noted, "as a dad who taught gun safety to his sons, it was a huge relief to hear that Courtland never actually intended to harm anyone."

He expressed gratitude to the authorities handling the case – he also said he was sympathetic toward Flinchum – but said the family is frustrated because the lack of facts released publicly during the investigation leaves people with a distorted image of Courtland Smith.

"We do continue to have faith in the system. We just wish some of the balancing facts could be released to give people a clearer picture of how this all unfolded," Pharr Smith wrote.

"It looks ... like the alcohol and the pressures to perform – as a student, a campus leader, a fraternity brother, a friend and, yes, as a son – were just too much for him that morning. It must have been a very dark and desperate time, but we are determined to concentrate on the wonder of his 21 years, as opposed to the tragedy of his last 21 minutes."

Flinchum, who has been with the Archdale police since April 2008 and previously worked as a Randolph County deputy, has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the SBI investigation.

418 Comments

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  • gandalla Aug 28, 2009

    The Wilmington shooting is another story. The person was not some who "just stole a PS3". This person had pictures of him holding AR-15 style long guns and other weapons.

    I'm sorry I didnt know the officers had pictures of him holding assault rifles before they decided to shoot through the wall at someone who wasnt an immediate threat.

  • RPD07 Aug 28, 2009

    Journey

    Thanks for posting on my profile. I would love to comment on your back but it seems as if you are scared to open yours up to allow me to do so.

    Now, if you want to shoot a police officer because you feel "threatened" then that is your choice. All I will say is if you don't do anything wrong (i.e. illegal) to have an encounter with an officer, you will not feel threatened. If you DO decide to do something illegal, then when the officer does show up, just keep your mouth quiet and LISTEN and FOLLOW the commands. Again, you would not feel threatened.

    If for some reason you feel like you are having an encounter that is not justified, again keep your mouth shut and listen. When it is over, take the officer to court for all of your rights that have been violated.

    If you decide to shoot the officer instead, you will be in a world of hurt.

    Thank you and enjoy your weekend!

  • RPD07 Aug 28, 2009

    Continued for spaminput

    5) Smith did not have to say "he won't be taken alive". His actions were more than enough to show he was a danger to himself and others. Okay, so he stopped driving and pulled over, what is to stop him from getting back in the car and tearing off again at 90+ miles an hour while drunk. His other actions of saying he had a weapon, not listening to the dispatcher AND the police officers and then telling the officers he had to reach something shows he was a dangerous person.

    6) That is a classic TV show but there is no relevance to the story hear

    So, is there anything else you want me to talk to you about with your invalid points of argument??

    If not, hope you have a FANTASTIC weekend.

  • bubbba Aug 28, 2009

    Thanks RPD..and Anitov...I stand corrected.
    Dont get me wrong. I am pro police and I respect them life and soul, but we are all humans and mistakes happen. I make them and everyone does. If you never make a mistake your simply doing nothing. I expect the officer involved in this case was following protocal. It is just a tragedy. I feel for him as well as the young kid and his family. In cases like this I am not sure there is a right and wrong. This officer was just doing his job. I know it runs thru his mind every second now and he feels great pain. Its part of being a police officer.

  • RPD07 Aug 28, 2009

    spaminput

    1) The number of shot fired, or missed, doesn't make a difference so give that one a rest. Deadly force is deadly force whether it is 1 bullet or 10.

    2) No where did I hear the officer use a curse word. What I did hear is a dispatcher tell the suicidal drunk driver to "stay on the phone, they will come to you" and I also heard the officers very clearly say TWO times "stay in the car"

    3) I agree there are parts that have been edited and that are missing. There is no need to hear those now, they will be released when the investigation is over.

    4) There may or may not be video, but that will be found out later when the investigation is over. Also, you don't need to "charge at someone" with a gun. Guns can hurt you from far away so the "charging" is irrelevant. Also, merely stating you have a gun and implying you have one and then reaching for that implied gun is more than enough for me to feel you are in fact going to pull out a gun.

  • gandalla Aug 28, 2009

    http://www.ncmoratorium.org/Issues.aspx?li=3332-lying officer
    http://www.northcarolinainjurylawyerblog.com/personal_injury/wrongful_death/- 3 cases currently pending. One for an officer shooting someone, one for an officer tasing someone, and one for an officer killing two teens while speeding.
    I bet the news will forget to report the outcomes.

  • thepeopleschamp Aug 28, 2009

    On the 911 call you can hear the officer say "Where the fword do you think you're going". What professional behavior and a really great way to defuse a life threatening situation. spaminput

    Well this article sure has produced some of the all time comments I've ever seen. Now we are bashing the officer because he said a no-no wordy dirty during a life/death, shoot or don't shoot moment? Thats it! I'm moving to Somalia where I don't have to worry if the police say naughty words.

  • Journey985 Aug 28, 2009

    AWESOME story about the Fayeteville officer being confronted by an armed man, and shooting an only wounding him, maybe these officers can take some lessons from him!!! I can't WAIT to see the dashboard camera footage!!

  • Commenter Aug 28, 2009

    1. Smith was HIT by four shots. More shots may have been fired and missed.

    2. On the 911 call you can hear the officer say "Where the fword do you think you're going". What professional behavior and a really great way to defuse a life threatening situation.

    3. The audio of the 911 call and the police radio traffic have obviously been heavily edited. Let's hear the part where the cops actually shot Smith. How many more obscenities were the cop(s) shouting?

    4. Let's see the video that's supposed to exist. Smith better have been charging the officer with something in his hand that could have been mistaken for a gun.

    5. I missed the part in the 911 call when Smith says "Heeey coppers, you'll never take me alive!". The fact that he was drunk driving at excessive speed became irrelevant after the immediately pulled over when he saw the flashing blue lights.

    6. Andy may have been right to give Barney only one bullet and make him keep it in his shirt pocket

  • RPD07 Aug 28, 2009

    Bubbba and Gandalla

    The female Raleigh officer was not fired because she broke the law, because she did not. She was fired because she violated City policy relating to use of force. What she did was technically legal (but I will be the first to say she was very stupid). When her car was stolen by the felon, she felt threatened by the stolen car driving towards her. She shot the driver in an attempt to stop him from striking her with the vehicle. That is allowed under state law. However, she violated city policy so that is why she was fired.

    The Wilmington shooting is another story. The person was not some who "just stole a PS3". This person had pictures of him holding AR-15 style long guns and other weapons. The person had also robbed (with a weapon) people. This was not just a simple "let me steal your stuff from you" larceny. This was a FELON. Again, what the officer did was justified by state law.

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