A community and family is mourning the loss of Daniel Kevin Harris, whose life was taken this week by a State Trooper who apparently fears sign language.
Harris, who is deaf and mute, was gunned down in front of his house.
According to police, trooper Jermaine Saunders attempted to pull Harris over around 6:14 p.m. on Thursday. For an unknown reason, Harris did not stop and, instead, drove to his home.
During the pursuit, both cars became damaged and eventually came to a stop near Harris’ home.
“I was here in my driveway and I saw the highway patrol car come through and it was smoking really bad,” said neighbor Mark Barringer. “About 10 seconds later, I heard one gunshot.”
According to WCNC, Barringer says when he went to take a closer look, he saw Harris in the middle of the street. He died just a few feet from his front door. Several neighbors have put flowers near where Harris took his final breaths.
“It was surreal, you just don’t expect to see something like that,” said Barringer. “When the gunshot went off, it was scary.”
According to police, detectives say Saunders and Harris got into “an encounter” before the officer killed him. However, according to neighbors, as soon as Harris got out of his vehicle, Saunders fired.
“While on Seven Oaks Drive, the driver exited his vehicle and an encounter took place between the driver and the trooper causing a shot to be fired,” according to a statement from the State Highway Patrol.
Detectives say Harris was trying to communicate with the trooper using sign language before he was killed.
Harris died on the scene. He was 28-years-old.
“They should’ve deescalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation, you’re pulling someone over who is deaf, they are handicapped,” said Barringer. “To me, what happened is totally unacceptable.”
Neighbor Ryan Russell said he’d see the man out in the neighborhood speaking in sign language with his family. “It seemed like a very peaceful family,” Russell told WBTV. “These things are always heartbreaking.”
Audria Bridges, special agent in charge of the SBI office that covers the Charlotte region, said Saunders has been placed on administrative leave and an investigation is underway.
“The SBI is in the process of obtaining all available dash cam or body camera video present on the scene from the State Highway Patrol as well as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as CMPD responded to the scene immediately after the shooting,” Bridges said.
According to the Charlotte Observer, public records show an interpreter provided sign language for Harris at a court hearing in Florida in 2010. At the hearing, he was found not guilty of misdemeanor larceny and had a charge of misdemeanor resisting property recovery dismissed, records show.
Harris was found guilty of resisting an officer in 2010 when he lived in Connecticut, according to public records. However, this resisting charge was likely due to the fact that Harris could not hear the officer’s commands.
In the land of the free, a deaf man suspected of driving too fast can be killed in cold blood. Unfortunately, as we’ve shown time and again, this type of mistreatment and attacks on the deaf by police are all too common.