29-year-old Daniel Harris was shot and killed by a North Carolina State Trooper last Thursday night. To make the situation even worse, not only was Harris unarmed, but he was deaf, and in his final moments, attempted to communicate via sign language.
It all started when Trooper Jermaine Saunders attempted to pull over Harris on 485 for speeding. When Harris did not stop, a chase down the highway ensued. Eventually both cars pulled off on an exit and Harris pulled over.
When Harris exited his damaged vehicle, he attempted to sign and was shot almost immediately.
A neighbor, Mark Barringer, witnessed the incident occur.
“I was here in my driveway and I saw the highway patrol car come through and it was smoking really bad," said Barringer. "About 10 seconds later, I heard one gunshot."
Barringer then went over to the scene where he saw a lifeless Harris in the middle of the road. According to Barringer, it did not appear that the officer tried to deescalate the situation or understand Harris’s method of communication.
"They should've de-escalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation," Barringer said. "You're pulling someone over who is deaf, they are handicapped. To me, what happened is totally unacceptable."
Harris’s family believes that police need to be more mindful when dealing with deaf or disabled individuals. Harris’s brother, Sam, who is also deaf, commented on his brother’s killing.
“The police need to become aware of how to communicate with deaf people, what that might look like and how to avoid situations like this from ever happening again,” stated Sam Harris, through a sign-language interpreter.
The Harris family has since set up a fundraiser in which they hope to use a portion of the funds to help law enforcement get trained on confronting deaf people:
“Any monies left over will be used to set up a foundation in his name to educate and provide law enforcement proper training on how to confront deaf people. Subsequently, we hope to change the DMV registration system by requiring states to set up a ‘DEAF’ alert to appear when law enforcement look up a car’s license plate. With this change, Daniel will be a hero in our deaf community.”
Trooper Saunders has been placed on an administrative leave. Daniel Harris leaves behind a 4-year-old son.
(Photo: David T. Foster III/The Charlotte Observer via AP)