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Authorities back off suicide statement in slain UNC student's autopsy

Posted October 22, 2009

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— The chief state medical examiner issued an amended investigative report Thursday for a college student killed by a police officer in August, deleting a statement that the student had discussed suicide with his friends.

Courtland Smith, 21, of Houston, was shot four times by an Archdale police officer during an Aug. 23 traffic stop along southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County.

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

Dr. Gordon Arnold, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Smith, wrote in his report that Smith "had commented to friends on D.O.D (date of death) and before about possible suicide ideas." He also listed alcohol and depression as contributing factors in Smith's death.

Smith had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.22 at the time of his death, according to the autopsy. North Carolina considers a 0.08 level to be impaired while driving.

Chief Medical Examiner John Butts scratched out the contributing causes of death in an amended investigative report, writing "no prior history of depression or alcoholism" in a corner of one page.

Butts, who couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, also crossed out Arnold's statement that Smith had discussed suicide with friends. He added the following comment at the conclusion of the report: "(Smith) had called 911 indicated that he had a 9 mm gun and was considering suicide only while he was driving. There is no evidence that prior to this he had expressed suicidal thoughts or intent."

Archdale police stopped Smith's speeding car along I-85 after his call to Guilford Metro 911. Police have said Officer Jeremy Flinchum shot Smith during a confrontation, and the autopsy report states that Smith "made a suggestive move toward his pocket which police interpreted as a move to get a gun."

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 case. Flinchum has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which had protested the original report, issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying members were "pleased" the report had been amended.

"The chief state medical examiner has ... deleted statements that did not accurately reflect the behavior of the man we knew prior to the early morning of his tragic death," the statement said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • starshield Oct 22, 2009

    I am sure that the family does not want the entire nation watch there son killed for your enjoyment or to satisfy you. That is why it was sealed. I will not pass judgement on either, as I have only read the news. Much like all of you, who are still willing to pass it.

  • jlh4jdj Oct 22, 2009

    backwards your name says it all. You really don't know why people want to see the video? You think that people should just trust LEOs without questioning how an unarmed man gets shot. Maybe there is something to learn from this for everyone. I know that no LEO has ever done anything wrong but, this might be the first time....

  • jackaroo2 Oct 22, 2009

    I said earlier, the cop probably wet himself. There needs to be serious mental evaluation before giving someone a uniform and a gun. I will gladly pay my share for it.

  • 5-113 FA Retired Oct 22, 2009

    wdclark Exactly! Thank you.

    Video = the truth. Why would anyone, especially a judge (public servant), want it censored? Something really stinks here.

    OK Now it's time for the cop/lawyer/subject-matter expert pretenders to chime in with your quotes and big words trying to impress me. In the words of the most famous law enforcement officer of our time; "go ahead, make my day." HA!!

  • jglyn43 Oct 22, 2009


  • WHEEL Oct 22, 2009

    This thing has been a disaster from the gitgo. Coroner diagnoses depression from an autopsy with no evidence of anti depressents. Claims of talk about sucicide and then has to backtrack. Judge won't let anyone look at dashcam film. SBI waiting until someone tells them what conclusion to reach. Please!!

  • wdclark Oct 22, 2009

    "Judge Brad Long reviewed the video and decided that releasing it would jeopardize the investigation." Can anyone logicly explain how viewing the tape.... the undeniable and undisputable account of a police officer shooting an unarmed man to death...in any way would " jeopardize" the investigation.
    What did he see in that video that would make him seal it? I could bring up numerous cases like this one, where an unarmed person was shot to death by police officers, and the only threat to be found was in the mind, and the fear, of the officer who shot them. All I know is, this officer will have no criminal charges brought forth against him, and he will quietly be dismissed from the police force a couple months after the " investagation" is over.

  • CrewMax Oct 22, 2009

    "What 22 year old has life insurance?"

    Military is full of them.

  • golfin69 Oct 22, 2009

    Everyone these days are so quick to pass judgements on statements that were made and know one really sits and thinks about the real situation here. A young man lost his life in a situation that could have been avoided, He was intoxicated (.22) he made some comments that put the officers in a bad situation in which they reacted. Lets also remember that the officer now has to live with the fact he took someones life, he will have those memories forever. It is amazing how quickly people like to play the blame game, I feel for both sides in this situation...

  • jackaroo2 Oct 22, 2009

    btw, the cops job is to eliminate the threat not kill (ie "fatal").
    NO need to shoot this unarmed kid 4 times, including once in the back...simply because he relayed a threat. Sorry, I am going somewhere else and look for intelligent life. Have a nice day in your world.