WRAL Investigates

Video of Fayetteville police shooting may play crucial role in civil rights suit

Posted May 14, 2015
Updated May 15, 2015

— Dashcam video shared with WRAL News provides a clearer picture of the fatal shooting of a black man by a Fayetteville police officer during a traffic stop two years ago – an incident that is now the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit.

An SBI investigation shows Nijza Hagans, 22, had a gun when Officer Aaron Hunt pulled him over around 6 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2013. Following the investigation, the Cumberland County district attorney determined Hunt, an American Indian, fired in self defense.

Hagans' family disagrees, and filed suit calling the shooting an unjustified, wrongful killing.

The case comes amid a rash of fatal police shootings across the country that have made national headlines, raised questions about the use of force by law enforcement and sparked protests by those concerned about how authorities police minority communities.

Dash cam video shows confrontation

Video captured from the dashboard camera of Hunt's patrol car and provided last week to WRAL News by an anonymous source shows Hunt stopped Hagans while he was driving an SUV on a dead-end street in a residential Fayetteville neighborhood. Hunt would later tell his supervisor that he saw the vehicle run a red light and that "something just didn't seem right."

For two minutes, the video shows, Hunt questioned Hagans. That audio was not captured by the officer's body microphone. Hunt told his supervisor he didn't activate the microphone because he hadn't expected to make a traffic stop.

As Hunt stood nearby, Hagans burst out of the vehicle, and, within five seconds, Hunt fired five shots, striking Hagans four times. Two of those shots hit Hagans in back as he fled, and he slumped to the ground yards from his vehicle.

Hunt then called for back-up.

After more officers arrived, he turned on his microphone and warned them Hagans was armed.

The video captured Hunt telling his supervisor he could see the butt of a gun hanging out of Hagans' pocket when he stood next to the vehicle.

He said that led to a tense verbal confrontation.

"I said, 'Dude, what do you have in your pocket?' And he said, 'Nothing man, nothing,' and he takes his hands off [the wheel] and I scream at him again, 'Dude keep your hands on the wheel!'" Hunt told his supervisor in the video.

No charges for officer

Fayetteville city attorneys declined to discuss the case, citing pending litigation, but Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West released a July 5, 2013, memo summarizing the SBI investigation into the shooting. It is standard procedure for local police to ask the SBI to investigate any time a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting.

The memo says officers recovered a .380-caliber pistol with one round in the chamber and a magazine loaded with seven rounds of ammunition from under Hagans' body. He died before paramedics arrived.

The district attorney decided not to file criminal charges against Hunt.

"Officer Hunt stated that he felt his life was threatened by Mr. Hagans' actions," the memo reads. "It is our conclusion that Officer Hunt fired his weapon in self defense and as a matter of last resort."

In an interview Friday, Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock called the stop a tragedy.

"That was a horrible incident for both the individual who's deceased and our officer," Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock said. "Because no matter what, no matter how justified, how lawful that kind of use of force is, it still cost a human being his life."

In the lawsuit, the family says Hagans did not "pose a threat, brandish, reach for, hold or otherwise threaten to use a weapon of any kind."

The suit also claims the Fayetteville Police Department has a history of racial profiling and excessive force. The suit includes statistics showing black drivers were three times more likely than whites to be searched by officers following a traffic stop.

Hagans' family attorneys also cite eight cases since 2005 in which suspects were either severely injured or killed by officers.

'They make split-second decisions'

Wellington Scott, a retired Highway Patrol lieutenant colonel, trains officers through his company, the International Academy of Public Safety. Scott declined to discuss the video or cast judgment on it.

But he said generally, a confrontation between an officer and a member of the public changes drastically if an officer sees a weapon.

"Law enforcement is always at a disadvantage in that type of setting where they're armed and you have no idea what their intent is," Scott said.

He said the presence of a weapon matters even when a suspect is running away.

"The officer doesn't know if that person is going to run and shoot or if that person is running to gain cover and shoot back," Scott said.

Officers are forced to make decisions in the blink of an eye, Scott said, and their first priority is to protect themselves.

"Law enforcement officers, they have a very tough job," Scott said. "They have to make split-second decisions."

Federal lawsuit moves forward

In its court response, the city paints Hagans as the aggressor and says Hunt rightfully defended himself.

Hagans, who was on parole at the time of the traffic stop, had been released from prison several months earlier after serving more than five years for felony convictions of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, first-degree burglary and robbery with a dangerous weapon. About two weeks before he was killed, he was arrested for assault on a female and several other charges, and the district attorney said he was under investigation for an armed robbery and aggravated assault.

An autopsy report showed Hagans was found with a bag of white powder that the district attorney said was 6 grams of crack cocaine.

It's unlikely Hunt knew any of that before the confrontation. He is still an officer with the Fayetteville Police Department.

Last week, Fayetteville city attorneys filed a motion to prevent parties in the lawsuit from releasing or publicly discussing the traffic stop video. Although that motion hasn't been approved by a judge, Hagans family attorney William Richardson declined to discuss the video or the case on camera.


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  • Lightfoot Williams May 19, 2015
    user avatar

    "the standard is for courts" - Mike DaRookie

    I guess you mean standard evaluation for whether or not to try a case? Sometimes the DA will not even try a case if they can't win (i.e. guilt or innocence doesn't matter). And many times the DA is on the cops' side, so they don't prosecute. But with this case, with a convicted felon with a gun, and possibly clueless people like you on the jury? DA would never win. The general standard is that of a "reasonable person" with regards to the statutes, which can be quite subjective. Do I need to quote the statues of deadly force to you? Can't start it, reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury, etc. As I pointed out in the Zimmerman case, even if he started it, he can reclaim the legal right of self-defense if he withdrew. Given you claim I get them all wrong, where did I go wrong with Zimmerman.

    If you have specific statute in mind, please say so. And I'd love to see the "wiggle room" one.

  • Lightfoot Williams May 19, 2015
    user avatar

    "giving preference to someone with a criminal record over someone who is in good faith trying to uphold the law is pathetic" - Jeff Johnson

    Do you know what the blindfold on the statue of Lady Justice stands for?

  • Lightfoot Williams May 19, 2015
    user avatar

    "the fleeing felon rule" - Tom Edmiston

    I'm aware of the fleeing felon rule, which is why I previously asked if the cop knew AT THE TIME OF THE SHOOTING if the guy was a fleeing felon.

  • Lightfoot Williams May 19, 2015
    user avatar

    "Apparently this Lightfoot Williams is also light in the head" - Jamal Jensen

    Resorting to unprovoked invectives is generally a sign you have no valid response.

    "Hunt is a police officer - over and over again" - Jamal Jensen

    How clueless are you? He still has to FOLLOW THE LAW!!! While many cops act like it, they are NOT above the law. The statutes are still supposed to apply to them. When they differ, it's says so. Why don't you read them instead of showing your ignorance.

    "From there it's like comparing apples and oranges - no comparison possible!" - Jamal Jensen

    The NC Statues apply to EVERYONE! The fact that you say he can do it because he's a cop pretty much proves my point!

  • Lightfoot Williams May 19, 2015
    user avatar

    "post incorrect information" - Mike DaRookie

    Again, given all the years you claimed to follow me, POINT TO SOMETHING!!!

    "then mock others" - Mike DaRookie

    No, I don't preemptively mock. However, I do response in kind to the clueless people like you who do unprovoked attacks.

    "the officer was justified legally, by statute, morally, and ethically" - Mike DaRookie

    Not really. He shot someone in the back because they were running.

    "they are granted more wiggle room tan you" - Mike DaRookie

    Uh, you're very confused. Point to this "wiggle room" statute. They get away with it, but that doesn't make it legal.

  • Lightfoot Williams May 19, 2015
    user avatar

    "I could care less about Zimmerman" - Mike DaRookie

    Yet you claim my PAST posts show I don't understand the use of force. Remember, you claimed to read my posts for YEARS, yet can't point to a SINGLE instance of me getting it wrong. Where did I get it wrong on Zimmerman?

    "whats the standard" - Mike DaRookie

    Standard for what?

    "no clue about the statutes in nc" - Mike DaRookie

    I've previously discussed the specific wording of them. In all those years that you followed me, don't you remember?

    "convicted of a felony" - Mike DaRookie

    KNOWN felon. I thought the cop said this was just a traffic stop?

    "are an escapee" - Mike DaRookie

    So now you're claiming the dude had broken out of prison or something? What are you smoking?!

  • Tom Edmiston May 15, 2015
    user avatar

    Here ya go :
    Under U.S. law the fleeing felon rule was limited in 1985 to non-lethal force in most cases by Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1. The justices held that deadly force "may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others."[2]A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead...however...Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.

    —Justice Byron White, Tennessee v. Garner[3]

  • Jamal Jensen May 15, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Apparently this Lightfoot Williams is also light in the head. I see where people explained to Lighty that Hunt is a police officer - over and over again. Lighty is trying to make the comparison between this incident and two civilians. For one thing, non-LEOs don't have blue lights and the authority to order people off the road. From there it's like comparing apples and oranges - no comparison possible!

  • Jeff Johnson May 15, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    'Profiling' is over rated and the refuge of many criminals. Police officers have to work to a very strict system. Unfortunately many people, especially criminals, forget officers are human and may make a mistake occassionally. Likewise, giving preference to someone with a criminal record over someone who is in good faith trying to uphold the law is pathetic.
    If there were less deadbeat dads there would likely be less criminals roaming the communities. If you can't do the task, stay away from that ...

  • Lightfoot Williams May 15, 2015
    user avatar

    "What if he lets the armed man run into the woods while it's dark and the felon sets up behind a tree and starts shooting at the officer?" - Jeff Abbott

    If that happens, he should start shooting back. But in general, North Carolina statutes don't allow you to use deadly force because you fear some future event. On another website forum, someone questioned the measurement of future. It's a good question, that goes along with what is considered imminent.