Authorities back off suicide statement in slain UNC student's autopsy
Posted October 22, 2009
Chapel Hill, N.C. — 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.