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DA: Officer justified in shooting UNC student

Posted December 4, 2009

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— An Archdale police officer was justified in shooting a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student during an August traffic stop and won't face criminal charges in his death, Randolph County District Attorney Garland Yates said Friday.

Courtland Smith, 21, of Houston, was killed by Officer J.P. Flinchum during a confrontation along southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County on Aug. 23. An autopsy determined he was shot four times.

Archdale police cruiser Archdale police cleared in student's death

In a 911 call Smith made as he sped along the highway, he told a dispatcher that he was drunk, had a 9-mm handgun and was trying to kill himself.

Flinchum and another officer located Smith's Toyota 4Runner and pulled him over near Hopewell Church Road in northeast Randolph County at about 5 a.m.

According to a State Bureau of Investigation review of the incident, Smith got out of his SUV after being stopped and refused to comply with the officers' orders to get back into the vehicle and to hold up his hands. As he walked toward the officers, he kept his right hand behind his back, according to the SBI.

The officers warned Smith he could get shot if he continued to disregard their orders, and he started walking backward to his SUV, according to the SBI. He then leaned into the vehicle and again started walking toward the officers, according to the SBI.

Flinchum and the other officer retreated as far as they could behind Flinchum's patrol car, but Smith continued to walk toward the officers with his right hand behind his back, according to the SBI. When Smith was about 10 feet away from Flinchum, he pulled his right hand out while holding something black, according to the SBI.

Flinchum fired five shots at Smith, hitting him twice in the abdomen and once each in the left thigh and upper back, according to the SBI. Smith died at High Point Regional Hospital.

Investigators recovered a black Blackberry cell phone next to where Smith was shot, but they found no weapon on him or in his SUV, according to the SBI. They also found a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in the SUV, according to the SBI.

Smith sent an e-mail to his family earlier that night indicating that he wanted to commit suicide, according to the SBI.

"It is clear from all of the evidence that Officer J.P. Flinchum reasonably believed that he and Officer Jones were in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury when he shot Courtland Smith," Yates wrote in a statement outlining his decision not to press charges against Flinchum.

"Officer J.P. Flinchum's actions were justified under the circumstances and well within the bounds of North Carolina law governing the use of deadly force," Yates wrote.

Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying that Yates' decision backs the findings of the police department's internal investigation.

"Certainly, this was a tragic incident for all involved, and our condolences go out to the family of Courtland Smith," Gibbs said.

UNC officials declined to comment Friday on Yates' decision, but students said it will be difficult to accept.

"It's like really painful because, even though they say it was justified, I don't think anyone should just get away with taking someone's life," student Denisha Gatling said.

"People who knew him and even people who didn't know him as well are still going to feel that void, you know, regardless of the end of the investigation," sophomore William Page said.

"It makes us realize that we are not indestructible when we are in college. I really believe that we think we are," junior Molly Fowler said.

Smith was the president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at UNC. University officials have placed the fraternity on social probation through the end of the school year because of alcohol-related infractions at a party the night Smith was killed, but they allowed the fraternity to maintain its charter on campus.

Chris Rice, an alumni adviser to the fraternity, declined to comment directly on Yates' decision, issuing a statement that addressed only the group's pain over Smith's death and its efforts to help his family.

"As a fraternity, we are doing our best to be together and support one another and will continue to do so as Courtland would want us to move forward," Rice said.

259 Comments

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  • doubletrouble Dec 7, 2009

    The officers were reponding from a 911 dispatcher which stated the suspect had a gun. Suspect gets out of car, with his hand held behind his back, refusing to follow orders of the police. He advances towards the police with this same posture, again refusing orders. He gets shot in the process, and it's tragic that he died because of his OWN actions. Sorry folks, in my long stint on this earth, in my younger years, I have on one or two occasions had Jack Daniels and the Police gathered in the same drunken situation- and even then, knew I needed to treat the officer with respect, and do what they asked. Seems this individual knew what he was doing and wanted to play the Death by Cop card. I know it hurts the family, as well as the cops involved. As far as tazers are concerned...you don't bring a knife to a "reported" possible gun fight. Cops bleed too. It's just an act of random, drunken, stupidity, and they did what they did for self protection.

  • leo-nc Dec 7, 2009

    "I don't blame the officer for defending himself, but don't all officers have tazers?"----

    This has already been explained a bunch of times...

  • boomkablamo Dec 4, 2009

    I don't blame the officer for defending himself, but don't all officers have tazers? It just seems the situation could have been deflated much more satisfactorily if the man was tazed as the officers were ordering him to put his hands up and he was walking towards them. It seems there was a decent window of time in between when he got out of his car, and got shot.

  • leo-nc Dec 4, 2009

    "gandalla, back again to pontificate on police issues? Remember the other day when you stated that local police would never find the Washington shooter because they were a Barney Fife agency and the suspect already fled to Canada?"---

    Thank God Gandalla isn't the cop, eh? Talk about a sharpshooter. LOL

  • Suasponte Dec 4, 2009

    Most handgun rounds travel in the 1200-1300 feet per second range. You only get one shot. Pun intended. The four dead police officers in Washington state are a tragic reminder.

  • thepeopleschamp Dec 4, 2009

    gandalla, back again to pontificate on police issues? Remember the other day when you stated that local police would never find the Washington shooter because they were a Barney Fife agency and the suspect already fled to Canada? So how did that turn out? "Officer Cleared", nuff said. Next.

  • Suasponte Dec 4, 2009

    The decision to be shot was entirely Mr Smith's. He controlled his destiny. He and he alone. The officer was doing what we ask of him to do. Dying is not in the job description.

  • dono422 Dec 4, 2009

    Let's see....man calls police and says he has a gun. Police stop man whom advances on them. If the man pulls a gun and shoots cop the next days post would read, cop hestitates and is killed, family morns.....thinking man was trying to trick them into shooting him. Ask the 4 cops in Washington State just how quick someone can shoot you before you have time to react. I feel bad for the families of everyone involved but not the coward who caused this entire incident.

  • braddyg Dec 4, 2009

    "Would you say a fan of a particular sports team cannot judge or criticize the decisions made in-game unless they play that sport? Unless they coach that sport?"

    They're free to criticize it all they want, Hans, but that doesn't mean that their criticism has one shred of merit.

    "Second they should be going for the NON LETHAL weapon FIRST and then go for the lethal one only after it's evident that it's necessary."

    I've seen some idiotic statements in this thread, but that might take the cake. So when is it "evident" that it's necessary? Once the LEO has been shot? If the suspect tells LE he has a gun, they're not going to show up with a Nerf bat. I am literally in awe of your ignorance, kcfoxie.

    "Since you are freely dishing out, how much research have you done?"

    Well, wildcat, I was a forensic science major and studied criminology and criminal law pretty extensively. I've never been out on the street as an LEO, but I can understand the law, unlike some here.

  • Redneck Fun Dec 4, 2009

    RPD-07: I agree, that is a headline that fits the event!!

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