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Police video in UNC student's slaying to remain sealed

Posted January 22, 2010

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— A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that 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 summer would remain sealed.

WRAL News was among several media outlets that sought to make the evidence public.

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.

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. The State Bureau of Investigation determined that Smith didn't obey the officers' orders, first to stay in his vehicle and then to hold up his hands as he approached them.

Investigators said Flinchum fired five shots when Smith suddenly pulled his right hand from behind his back while holding something black. A black Blackberry smart phone was found next to Smith's body, according to investigators.

No weapon was found on Smith or in his SUV, investigators said.

Video footage from the dashboard camera of Flinchum's patrol car has been sealed by court order since the incident. Judge Brad Long reviewed the video and decided to keep it under seal.

Randolph County District Attorney Garland Yates declined to pursue charges against Flinchum in the case, saying the officer fired in self-defense.

Smith was the president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at UNC. The fraternity is building a Habitat for Humanity house in his honor Saturday.


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  • Tarheelfan13 Jan 22, 2010

    Perhaps if a federal question or issue is brought up in conjunction with the right of the media to have access to the video through 1st Amendment concerns than this issue could be brought to the United States District court for the Middle District of North Carolina. A federal courts ruling would legally supersede any North Carolina court ruling.

  • kmanc4s Jan 22, 2010

    I'm sure the DA has seen the tape and anyone involved in the decision not to release the tape has seen it. They would be required to see the evidence in the case to make the rulings they have made. There is absolutely no reason for anyone in the public to see this young man being killed. The case is tragic enough without the media being allowed to show it for ratings or circulation boosts.

  • Common Sense Man Jan 22, 2010

    "The DA is not persuing charges because he probably has not seen the tape."

    Here we go again. Yeah, you're right, he figured, "What the heck, no need to watch it."

  • Journey985 Jan 22, 2010

    Wow!! Can anyone say COVER-UpP??? This is outrageous. If there is nothing to hide then release the video. Must be nice to have the Wall of blue to protect you when you mess up. The officer shot 5 times?? The DA is not persuing charges because he probably has not seen the tape. Even if he has, he knows as ong as the judge keeps it sealed there will be no reason to charge the officer for usin excessive force.