CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — In North Carolina, where a deaf driver was shot and killed by a State Highway Patrol trooper, the state officers are trained on how to interact with deaf people and they are cautioned that such interactions can sometimes lead to tragic misunderstandings.
“Keep your eyes on the person’s hands,” the Basic Law Enforcement Training manual reads. “Deaf people have been stopped by an officer and then shot and killed because the deaf person made a quick move for a pen and pad in his or her coat pocket or glove compartment. These unfortunate incidents can be prevented by mutual awareness which overcomes the lack of communication.”
Authorities haven’t provided details about what transpired Thursday night between Daniel Kevin Harris and a trooper who wanted to stop him for a speeding violation on Interstate 485. Trooper Jermaine Saunders tried to pull over Harris in northeast Charlotte. Harris didn’t stop, leading the trooper on a 10-mile chase, the Highway Patrol said in a statement.
Harris stopped in his neighborhood within sight of his home. For reasons that haven’t been explained, he ended up dead.
Based on a review of public records, Harris had previous arrests for traffic and misdemeanor offenses in other states.
The victim’s family said Harris was unarmed and likely didn’t understand the officer’s commands. The Highway Patrol on Tuesday urged people not to jump to conclusions.
“Let us all refrain from making assumptions or drawing conclusions prior to the internal and independent reviews” by the patrol, the State Bureau of Investigation and the district attorney, Secretary Frank Perry of the state Department of Public Safety said in a news release. The agency oversees the Highway Patrol.
Harris’ family said they want to make sure the incident is investigated thoroughly and also want the state to make changes so officers will immediately know they are dealing with a hearing-impaired driver.
Authorities have released little information about the investigation, including any possible body camera or dashboard camera footage or whether a gun was found near Harris. Saunders has been placed on administrative leave. A spokeswoman for the SBI didn’t respond Tuesday to questions, including whether authorities have interviewed Saunders yet.
Harris’ family is raising money for his funeral and will put any extra money toward educating police officers on interacting with hard of hearing people and calling for a computerized system to alert officers they are dealing with a deaf driver, according to the family’s posting on YouCaring.com.
“You don’t see deafness the way that you see the difference in race. We need to change the system,” Harris’ brother Sam said to reporters using sign language and an interpreter after the Monday night vigil.
Sam Harris is deaf, and so are his brother’s parents and other family members. They signed with each other as an Associated Press reporter knocked on their door Tuesday.
Sam Harris didn’t want to talk Tuesday, but wrote a note leaving an email address for an interpreter, who did not respond.
A review by The Associated Press shows Harris had been charged with traffic offenses and other misdemeanors in three states.
In Denver, Colorado, he had traffic stops in 2015 and 2008. The five misdemeanor charges filed in 2008 included obstructing a peace officer; all those charges were dropped. It’s unclear what happened with the 2015 charge.
He was arrested twice in Florida in 2010 — once for petit theft and once for speeding. A charge of resisting an officer was dropped. That year he pleaded no-contest to petit theft and guilty to speeding.
And in December of that same year, he pleaded guilty to interfering with or resisting police in Watertown, Connecticut.
The National Association of the Deaf works with law enforcement agencies to improve existing training manuals but doesn’t have one of its own, CEO Howard Rosenblum said in an email.
The NAD supports intensive training for law enforcement officers on dealing with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and says some officers should be trained to communicate in American Sign Language.
The North Carolina training manual includes clues to alert troopers that they may be dealing with a deaf person, such as they seem alert but don’t respond to noise or sounds. It also advises troopers on types of communication that deaf people may use.
While the NAD doesn’t keep statistics on violent encounters between deaf people and law enforcement, Rosenblum said there are “too many” such incidents.
“Too often, officers make verbal orders for individuals to comply and act aggressively when those individuals do not comply,” Rosenblum wrote. “Deaf individuals often are unable to understand the verbal commands of law enforcement officers, and this has led to many physical altercations between law enforcement officers and deaf individuals over the years, with some resulting in death.”
Harris was white, and authorities haven’t revealed Saunders’ race.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins
Martha Waggoner reported from Raleigh, N.C. She can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner.