Local News

Family: UNC student unarmed, shot four times

Posted August 27, 2009 1:59 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2009 11:32 a.m. EDT

— The family of a college student who was killed during a weekend traffic stop said Thursday that evidence they have reviewed in the case shows a police officer shot him four times even though he had no weapon.

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

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

Archdale Police Chief Darrell Gibbs said Flinchum was dispatched because a caller to 911 was threatening to commit suicide. A second officer arrived on the scene before the shooting, he said.

Police said Smith confronted Flinchum during the traffic stop, and the officer shot Smith, who died at High Point Regional Hospital.

Guilford Metro 911 on Wednesday released a recording of the 17-minute call in which Smith told the dispatcher he was drunk, had a 9-mm handgun and planned to kill himself.

The call ended before the shooting, but Smith told the dispatcher toward the end of the call that two police cars were behind him and he was pulling over. An officer can be heard yelling at him to stay in the car, and he tells them "I've got to pull something out."

In a recording to Archdale police radio communications during the traffic stop, officers can be heard shouting "subject down" and "shots fired" shortly after pulling Courtland Smith over on the highway and ordering him to stay in his car.

Smith's parents, Pharr and Susan Smith, told friends they have reviewed evidence in the case, including an unedited version of the 911 call and details provided by the State Bureau of Investigation.

The SBI, which is handling the case because it's an officer-involved shooting, has declined to comment publicly on its investigation.

In an e-mail to a family friend, Pharr Smith said the evidence shows that his son didn't have a gun with him and that he was shot twice in the abdomen and once each in the arm and leg.

"Sadly, what we have heard, however, is that Courtland was shot only a few minutes after stepping out of his truck, and the officer discharged four shots in rapid succession," Pharr Smith wrote in the e-mail.

Pharr Smith didn't offer an explanation as to why his son would claim in the 911 call to have a gun with him, but noted, "as a dad who taught gun safety to his sons, it was a huge relief to hear that Courtland never actually intended to harm anyone."

He expressed gratitude to the authorities handling the case – he also said he was sympathetic toward Flinchum – but said the family is frustrated because the lack of facts released publicly during the investigation leaves people with a distorted image of Courtland Smith.

"We do continue to have faith in the system. We just wish some of the balancing facts could be released to give people a clearer picture of how this all unfolded," Pharr Smith wrote.

"It looks ... like the alcohol and the pressures to perform – as a student, a campus leader, a fraternity brother, a friend and, yes, as a son – were just too much for him that morning. It must have been a very dark and desperate time, but we are determined to concentrate on the wonder of his 21 years, as opposed to the tragedy of his last 21 minutes."

Flinchum, who has been with the Archdale police since April 2008 and previously worked as a Randolph County deputy, has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the SBI investigation.