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Mentally ill man shot, killed after stealing Wake deputy's cruiser

Posted March 31, 2013
Updated April 1, 2013

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— 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.

1-540 police chase Man shot, killed by Wake deputies after chase

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.

81 Comments

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  • katiedclark Apr 4, 11:02 a.m.

    Does anyone know the funeral plans? I knew Jonathan and would like to pay my respects.

  • beachboater Apr 1, 7:34 p.m.

    Bottom line, Jonathan is dead and from everything I read it was totally unnecessary. If either the logical act of restraining him OR having him transported by a person(s)trained to deal with this type of person, he would still be alive. Stop and think for just 1 minute as to how you would feel if this was your brother, father or friend. Senseless....

    goswick

    If everything you have read is from this story, then you are way premature in bottom lining anything. The story says it happened and that's all it says. Nothing as to why or how.

    What's the old newspaper story, what, when, where, why and how. Well you know what, when and where, but without how and why, you have nothing.

  • Barfly Apr 1, 6:40 p.m.

    This is another sorry example of our state's pathetic mental health system. This is the price we pay for a destination park. Wonderful.

  • didisaythat Apr 1, 5:21 p.m.

    To lay blame on shooting a person without knowing the facts of what was happening at the instant the shot was fired is a little premature. Do you know if the subject ambushed one of the officers and was a threat? Do you know if he had obtained a weapon from the patrol car? Do you know if he had obtained a weapon from the woods? Do you know if he was an expert in hand to hand combat? Do you know if he was in such a state that he was overpowering the officers and they had to stop the threat before they were incapacitated and took one of their weapons? So many things that are unknown to just start laying blame.

  • didisaythat Apr 1, 5:14 p.m.

    jjsmith I see you have seen the same statistics I have seen. But Have you been on the streets lately? Your father started many years ago and only had to pull his weapon twice. My dad started even longer ago and never had to. My first day of training I had to pull mine. I have not had to shoot anyone thankfully. Why is that...not sure. Some that support the criminals would say I restrained myself, some would say I haven't done enough, some would say it has been luck. Probably a mix of all of the above. But you obviously do not or have ever worked with the officers I work with everyday. They do the best they can. Sure some make mistakes, but I have yet to work with any that represent what you think the majority act like in NC.

  • whatelseisnew Apr 1, 5:02 p.m.

    Bad choice to have the mentally ill person riding up front. I suppose the Deputy was trying to treat the man with a bit of respect and that kindness backfired.

  • debbie16 Apr 1, 4:59 p.m.

    I'm going to play Monday Quarterback. The ball was dropped more than once in the game. The first penalty was committed by the Mental Health Facility releasing Jonathan. The second penalty was committed by the Sheriff's Department for not having protocol in place for the play and the final penalty was a deadly gunshot wound to an unarmed man. I have a great deal of respect for law enforcement officers and do not place blame on one individual officer. Those officers were sent into the game without a game plan. The coach let them down. The sad truth is both sides lost the game. The coaching staff was elected and has a responsibility to their team as well as those who play the game with them in regard to protocol and safety. To the person who said that Jonathan knew what he was doing I suggest that they spend some time observing mentally unstable patients as you can't make that call from afar. Regardless of who was at fault Jonathan was pulled out of the game way too soon!

  • goswick Apr 1, 4:36 p.m.

    To subanitov, there are other county agencies that are government (the people) funded and could be required to transport sick people. Bottom line, Jonathan is dead and from everything I read it was totally unnecessary. If either the logical act of restraining him OR having him transported by a person(s)trained to deal with this type of person, he would still be alive. Stop and think for just 1 minute as to how you would feel if this was your brother, father or friend. Senseless....

  • djofraleigh Apr 1, 4:20 p.m.

    Having transported a catatonic patient to Cherry back in the 1960s in a DSS sedan, without problem, but two people did it. How many times have we seen out of county LEOs bringing people to Dix? A lot!

    I hate to see a mentally ill person restrained more than needed, but really, who can tell? I guess the sheriff should cage them in the back, maybe handcuff, every sick person whether it damages them or not?????

    This guy was committed and being transported. He was under the care of the state and we killed him. He went out of control, unpredictably, so I guess the lesson is handcuffs in the back seat with cage and no inside door handles.

  • Minarchist Apr 1, 4:00 p.m.

    I see a stiff talking to and these coppers will be back in no time. Cops cuff people simply for being around them "for their safety". I like how they are trying to make excuses like "it was the officers call". "We need to keep him calm". LOL ooooookkkkkk.

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