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Judge to review police video in UNC student's death

Posted September 18, 2009
Updated October 8, 2009

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— A Superior Court judge said Friday that he would decide next week whether to release footage from a police video camera showing the events leading up to the fatal shooting of a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student last month.

WRAL News, The Associated Press and UNC's student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, are among several media outlets that are seeking to make the evidence public.

Archdale police cruiser Prosecutor: Video part of ongoing investigation

Courtland Smith, a junior biology major from Houston, Texas, was killed early Aug. 23 after a police confrontation following a 911 call during which the 21-year-old repeatedly asked a Guilford County dispatcher to send help.

Archdale police stopped Smith on southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County. A police report said officers shot Smith after a confrontation.

Smith was the president of the UNC chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He had reportedly left a party at the fraternity house several hours before the shooting.

It's unclear where Smith was going, but in a 911 recording released by Guilford Metro 911, he said he was headed to Asheville. He told a dispatcher that he was drunk, had a 9-mm pistol with him and was trying to kill himself.

Archdale police said Smith confronted Officer Jeremy Flinchum during the traffic stop and that Flinchum shot Smith.

In the 911 recording, an officer can be heard yelling at him to stay in the car, and the caller can be heard later saying, "I've got to pull something out."

The recording ends before the shooting, and the rest of the recording, as well as video footage from the dashboard camera of Flinchum's patrol car, have been sealed by court order.

Judge Brad Long said he wanted to review the video before ruling on whether it should be unsealed and released to the media.

Randolph County Assistant District Attorney Andy Gregson argued in court Friday that the video wasn't public record under state law and should remain under seal until the investigation of the case is completed.

The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the case, which is customary procedure in officer-involved shootings. Flinchum is on paid leave pending the outcome of the SBI investigation.

Gregson said he hasn't seen the video, but he maintained that releasing it to the media could wind up tainting a jury in any criminal trial held in the case and might affect witness testimony.

Hugh Stevens, an attorney for WRAL News, said the only two witnesses to the shooting are police officers, so he doubts that they would change their testimony based on the video. He also said it's unlikely that the video would make it impossible to find impartial jurors.

"I don't know whether this video will vindicate the officers or not, but at least it will presumably shed light on what is currently a very dark corner," Stevens said after the hearing.

North Carolina has never had a case dealing specifically with the release of dashboard camera video, he said, noting that the state's law outlining what items in a criminal investigation are public record was written before cameras were widely used in officers' cars.

"It's a public record unless there is clear exemption or exception to the contrary," he said.

31 Comments

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  • tlmrjwg Sep 18, 2009

    I totally understand and relate to "vote4changeASAP"!!! I am a strong supporter of law enforcement!! I listened to the 911 call from this sad and tragic loss of life. I am not placing any blame. But i do think that Courtland's life could have been saved. But...coming from a father of law enforcement..and having friends who are in law enforcement...this is not at all how to respond to a situation like his.

  • wufpak7483 Sep 18, 2009

    There are several factors which could sway jurors in this case, not only just the viewing of this video if it is released. One, if the caller did in fact state during his calls to 911 that he had a weapon and the officer dispatched had knowledge of that, then he had to procede as if a weapon was present. Secondly, if a weapon was indeed at the scene, whether in the deceased's hand or not, that must be considered. Also, if the officer was trying to talk the suspect from the vehicle, and the suspect did not COMPLETELY comply with the officer's request, and the POSSIBILITY of a weapon existed, this fact must also be considered. The majority of people magically forget the end to this situation would have NEVER occurred if the suspect had not put his self in this position. I have no understanding of the defense sometimes put forward by unarmed robbers whom are shot or injured at a crime scene. They cry foul. Guess what,...no crime,...no problem.

  • vote4changeASAP Sep 18, 2009

    wayneuber, Smith was unarmed at the time he was shot.

    Doesn't matter if a gun was found in the car later. Previous articles stated that there was no gun.

  • Tarchilles Sep 18, 2009

    And the dashcam in the Chatham shooting just yesterday is immediately released. Is that beacuse the police are proud of the way the situation was handled? Where's the concerns in Chatham that have been expressed regarding releasing the Courtland Smith video?

  • this is fdup Sep 18, 2009

    this was a suicide by cop.... classic example.The public should be informed yes but I disagree with this video being played on the news.

  • wayneuber Sep 18, 2009

    vote4changeASAP said "Smith did not have a weapon. He was unarmed."

    Wrong! in previous articles it was stated that a 9mm handgun that belonged to Smith was found at the scene.

    Hugh Stevens said "it's unlikely that the video would make it impossible to find impartial jurors".

    Wrong again! It might not be impossible to find impartial jurors put broadcasting video of the shooting would make it more difficult to find impartial jurors. If this case results in formal charges against law enforcement officers a jury should be the first audience for this video footage, not the entire WRAL audience.

  • tiblet Sep 18, 2009

    Honestly, this reminds me of a "police assisted suicide", in which, a person wants to commit suicide but can't actually do the act, so he/she reaches out to officers in a negatively way hoping that the officer will then shoot the person.. in this case, it worked
    swtpea44

    that's exactly what I think happened...and I think the tape will reveal it

  • concerncitizen Sep 18, 2009

    Come on folks, do you really think this guys family wants to see him shot to death over, and over, and over again on the TV? That's what wral concern is not justice! Sure they'll make some weak attempt of covering faces to protect them they'll say. We all know ratings is what they are after! Shame on you WRAL! We will never see what it is most of you are wanting to see, the bullet entering his body, throwing him some 20 to 30 feet backwards like in the movies! Sound effect and all! SORRY, you'll have to get on the jury for that, if it come to trial?

  • vote4changeASAP Sep 18, 2009

    How many times did Smith fire his weapon before the Archdale policeman return fire?

    NONE because Smith did not have a weapon. He was unarmed. Say what you want in defense of the PO, but he should have never fired his gun until he was certain Smith was armed and dangerous, and was a definite threat.

    I have the upmost respect for law enforcement. I also expect them avoid gunning down unarmed people.

  • SME2 Sep 18, 2009

    If they are still investigating this shooting there is something more going on here. If the cop did nothing wrong then they need to release the tape...unless they don't want to get the public upset.

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