‘Unacceptable’: Trooper fatally shoots unarmed, deaf & mute man

‘Unacceptable’: Trooper fatally shoots unarmed, deaf & mute man
A routine traffic stop by a state trooper escalated into a chase and turned deadly for a mute and deaf man. His family is raising money for a memorial as well as a national campaign to educate police about deaf drivers.

Investigators say Trooper Jermaine Saunders tried to pull over a Volvo on Interstate 485 for speeding but the driver would not stop.

A chase ensued off the interstate, and eventually ended with both vehicles damaged, according to WCNC, Charlotte.

“I was here in my driveway and I saw the highway patrol car come through and it was smoking really bad,” said Mark Barringer, a neighbor who witnessed the confrontation between the state trooper and 29-year-old Daniel Harris on Thursday night.

Neighbors who witnessed the shooting told WCNC Harris’ car spun out of control, and he was shot and killed “almost immediately” after exiting his vehicle. They said he appeared to be trying to communicate with the officer via sign language. The man died a few feet from his family’s home.

Charlotte detectives said Trooper Saunders and Harris got into “an encounter” before he fired his weapon. It’s not clear if Harris was aware that he was pursued by police or whether the officer knew that he was speech and hearing impaired.

“They should’ve de-escalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation,” Barringer told the New York Daily News. “You’re pulling someone over who is deaf, they are handicapped. To me, what happened is totally unacceptable.”

Harris’ family, including his sibling are also hearing impaired, and were often seen communicating with each other using sign language in the neighborhood.

They are raising funds to cover the costs of his memorial. By Monday evening, 194 donors had contributed over $8,000 of a $10,000 goal.

“Our family is raising funds to cover his memorial and cremation expenses (details pending). 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 administrative leave. 

Records show that Harris has had an encounter in 2010 with a police officer before and was arrested for resisting arrest, but some claim it was due to Harris not being able to hear the commands of the officer. 

State Bureau of Investigation is leading the investigation but ABC News said the SBI initial report didn’t mention Harris’ impairment. SBI said they will review dash and body cam videos from the Highway Patrol. 

The police report identifies Harris as white; the trooper's race is unknown.