Local News

Archdale chief defends officer who shot UNC student

Posted August 25, 2009 5:17 p.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2009 6:38 p.m. EDT

— A police officer's fatal shooting Sunday of a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student continues to produce more questions than answers.

Officer Jeremy Paul Flinchum of the Archdale Police Department shot Courtland Benjamin Smith, 21, of Houston, Texas shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday off southbound Interstate 85 in Randolph County, authorities said.

Smith was a junior majoring in biology at UNC and was president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity on the Chapel Hill campus.

Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said Tuesday that Flinchum was dispatched because a caller to 911 was threatening to commit suicide. Flinchum tried to pull over a gray Toyota 4Runner on the highway but wound up following the vehicle until it stopped near Exit 108, authorities said.

Gibbs said he's sure Flinchum stopped the right vehicle.

Police said a confrontation ensued between Smith and Flinchum, and the officer shot Smith, who died at High Point Regional Hospital.

The case was immediately turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation, which routinely handles officer-involved shootings. Flinchum has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Gibbs said he couldn't comment on whether Smith had a weapon – he said his officers didn't search Smith's SUV – or how many shots were fired.

A second officer, whose name hasn't been released, arrived to assist in the traffic stop before the shooting, Gibbs said. That officer also was put on leave because of the emotional toll of the incident, he said.

Flinchum was trained to use a stun gun, but Gibbs said the department doesn't have enough of the weapons for all officers.

"We share them, so I can't tell you if he had one on him or not," Gibbs said.

The SBI has declined to comment on its investigation.

Gibbs said he doesn't think Flinchum did anything wrong in the case.

"Not in my opinion. Not from what I know now," he said, adding, "I don't have all the facts before me."

Flinchum has been with the Archdale police since April 2008. Before that, he spent six years with the Randolph County Sheriff's Office, and Sheriff Maynard Reid said he was a "fine officer" and an "excellent record."

Gibbs said he doesn't like people speculating about the case until the SBI investigation is complete.

"People think that you are out here and you've got this gun, and cops want to be bad to you and put you in jail and shoot you. That is not true. Our main goal is to help people," he said. "It's very painful for him and his family to go through this, and no officer ever wants to face this in their career."