Local News

Autopsy: Police shot UNC student four times

Posted October 15, 2009

— A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student was depressed and had alcohol in his system when police shot him four times during a confrontation along Interstate 85 in August, according to reports by the Guilford County medical examiner.

The medical examiner lists gunshot wounds as the cause of death for Courtland Smith, 21, a junior biology major from Houston, Texas. Alcohol and depression are listed as contributing causes.

Autopsy: Student was shot four times Autopsy: Student was shot four times

Smith had a blood alcohol content level of 0.22 percent and a medical history of depression, according to the report. No drugs were found in his system.

Autopsy for Courtland Smith

Medical examiner's investigation into Courtland Smith's death

On Aug. 23, Smith asked 911 dispatchers for help and told them he was drunk, had a 9-mm pistol and wanted to kill himself. A police report says that Archdale police stopped Smith on I-85 South in Randolph County, and Officer Jeremy Flinchum shot Smith after a confrontation.

The medical examiner narrates that Smith "had commented to friends on D.O.D (day of death) and before about possible suicide ideas."

According to earlier reports, Smith left a fraternity party hours before the shooting.

In a statement released late Thursday, Smith's fraternity brothers said they were "dumbfounded by the wording of the autopsy report."

"We are very surprised by Medical Examiner Dr. Gordon Arnold's comments. We are not sure where he heard that Courtland had discussed suicide with his friends. No one we have talked with has mentioned any such conversations. We are also unaware of any history of depression; to the contrary, Courtland was cheerful and optimistic," the statement from the Beta Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon said.

The medical examiner's report says that Smith was alone when police tried to stop him for driving "very fast down I-85 in the early a.m. hours."

Once he stopped for police, Smith got out of his car and "made a suggestive move toward his pocket which police interpreted as a move to get a gun," the report says.

The autopsy says that one bullet struck Smith's left forearm and then entered his lower abdomen. Three others hit his upper abdomen, left thigh and upper back.

Smith's relatives have said their son was unarmed, and the autopsy report lists only the gun belonging to police.

The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the shooting, following standard procedure for officer-involved shootings. Flinchum has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The medical examiner's reports will be valuable to the SBI as it determines whether the shooting was justified, said Irv Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University.

"The court doesn't require an officer to be absolutely right," he said.

The law requires that an officer feel that his safety or someone else's safety is threatened, Joyner said. Although the number of shots fired could seem extreme, "that alone isn't really significant," he said.

A judge has said police video of the incident did not record the shooting. Instead, investigators will have to rely on medical and forensics reports and statements from officers.

"There are a lot of gray areas," Joyner said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • jamesdferrell Oct 19, 2009

    Oh wait LOL,..."That's why the law doesn't include emotion.." Are you trying to say that our law enforcement arent supossed to control their emotions? Maybe you know something I dont,but i thought that was part of their training. This wasnt a shoot out.This was an unarmed drunk college boy.

  • jamesdferrell Oct 19, 2009

    "Get over the 4 times deal. It's IRRELEVANT"
    How is it IRRELEVENT? Three Shots to the front and one shot in the back.All wound tracts were from front to back in a downward angle.Was the police officer 12 ft tall? One shot would have stopped the man. Two would have for sure. I cant see how "front to back" penetrations would have made a man spin around for another in the back. So if that is the case,he either shot him 3 times first in the front then another in the back or shot him in the back first then another 3 in the front before he was satisfied that his life was no longer in danger. I mean did I read the autopsy report or the story wrong?

  • anti-Hans Oct 16, 2009

    Funny, I did not think Leo was bullying anyone. Just the facts. Put your life on the line every day you wake up, even when you are off duty, you are still on-duty. When you do that, then you can be critical of law enforcement. Until then, stop watching so much TV.

  • leo-nc Oct 16, 2009

    "Not to Courtland Smith or his family I would say..."----

    That's why the law doesn't include emotion..

  • rtpduder Oct 16, 2009

    @leo-nc: Just because people post views differing with your opinion doesn't give you the right to bully them around. You claim people are biased, their views "irrelevant", they're "wrong", a "basher", that they have no idea what they're talking about.

    Funny how TV shows like COPS don't have an issue airing people getting shot up on national TV when it makes the cops look good. But whenever a questionable incident happens I hear excuses stating the video is sealed out of regards for the victim's family, or a camera "malfunction", or the camera somehow missed the appropriate angle to capture the shooting, or there was no camera. There are several compact HD and lightweight wearable video cameras on the market now. I personally have a HD 1080p helmet cam which weighs 0.25 lbs. I think all cops should be required to wear one during traffic stops.

  • Obscurite Oct 16, 2009

    "Get over the 4 times deal. It's IRRELEVANT" leo-nc

    Not to Courtland Smith or his family I would say...

  • leo-nc Oct 15, 2009

    "But I wasn't there so can't really pass any judgement"---


  • rtpduder Oct 15, 2009

    Shooting an unarmed drunk college student because he supposedly made a questionable movement seems a bit over the top to me. But I wasn't there so can't really pass any judgement.

  • leo-nc Oct 15, 2009

    "Are you a real cop or someone that just watches lots of Nancy Grace and People's Court?"----

    Nah I just like to watch cops like the rest of the armchair quarterbacks around here. Go ahead, explain how they were wrong. Can't wait to hear it.

  • 5-113 FA Retired Oct 15, 2009


    Are you a real cop or someone that just watches lots of Nancy Grace and People's Court?

    Geesh!!! The cops screwed up, plain and simple. They connected with four shots. I wonder how many times they changed magazines to get only four hits? Release the video and clear their names if you're so sure they acted in self defense.