Mentally ill man shot, killed after stealing Wake deputy's cruiser
Posted March 31, 2013
Updated April 1, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A 35-year-old Durham man being transported to a Winston-Salem psychiatric facility was shot and killed Sunday morning after, authorities said, he stole a Wake County sheriff deputy's cruiser and led authorities on a chase on Interstates 40 and 540 in Raleigh.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said Deputy Jeremy Pittman was carrying Jonathan Lee Cunningham to Old Vineyard Behavioral Health Services when Cunningham tried to overpower Pittman on Interstate 440 near Lake Boone Trail.
Pittman pulled over the car around 9 a.m., and both men got out of the car, where they continued to fight, Harrison said. Pittman slipped in mud, allowing Cunningham to get into the cruiser and leave the area.
Harrison said Cunningham, who had been involuntary committed to the Wake County Crisis and Assessment Center, had been sitting in the front seat and was not wearing handcuffs – a decision that is left up to deputies in such cases.
"That's the deputy's call," he said. "That's something we leave up to the deputy. If the person is calm, sometimes, handcuffs excite people."
Harrison added a review of the policy would be part of an internal investigation into what happened.
Authorities later located the cruise near the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, where Cunningham then led them on a chase, with speeds up to 80 mph on westbound Interstate 40 and I-540 until he crashed on I-540 near Leesville Road.
Cunningham then fled the scene on foot, and after another struggle with authorities, he was shot and killed, Harrison said.
The stolen cruiser was in the woods adjacent to the highway, and much of the area around the cruiser was blocked by crime scene tape. Eastbound I-540 was closed for several hours while authorities investigated.
Wake sheriff's deputies Matthew Johnson and Dusty Mullen have been placed on administrative duty while the State Bureau of Investigation investigates – standard protocol in an officer-involved shooting. Harrison did not indicate if Johnson and Mullen were the two officers who shot Cunningham.
Johnson has been with the sheriff's office since October 2010 and Mullen since 2004.