New Hanover leads state in SBI-investigated officer shootings

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – The State Bureau of Investigation has looked into more cases of law enforcement officers shooting and injuring people in New Hanover County than any other county in the state this year.

SBI investigations into officer-involved shootings aren't automatic, but they are common practice. Local law enforcement or district attorneys have to request state assistance, according to Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Justice.

The SBI investigated five shootings in New Hanover County; four each in Cumberland, Durham and Wake counties; three in Forsyth County; and two in Mecklenburg.

According to state law, officers may use deadly force when attempting to make an arrest only if a suspect presents an imminent threat.

"Our officers are professional, and in our experience they're not going to fire unless they have to to protect their lives or someone else's," said Tom Old, assistant district attorney, when asked for his reaction to the SBI statistics.

On Aug. 16, a New Hanover County sheriff's deputy shot Darius Hester, 23, in the arm after the man pointed a gun at the officer who was on routine patrol, according to an arrest warrant.

On Oct. 13, officers, shot and killed Brandon Smith, who they say shot a New Hanover County sheriff's deputy a few days earlier in Wilmington's Creekwood neighborhood.

According to the district attorney's office, Smith was unarmed when he was shot. Prior to the shooting, he started to reach for something in his waistband, and officers said it looked like he was trying to pull out an object that appeared to be stuck. Eventually, Smith was able to unhinge the item and started to point it at law enforcement, they said. That's when all three officers began to fire.

Smith was shot at two dozen times in less than three seconds, according to District Attorney Ben David. Nine bullets hit Smith, three grazed him and 12 missed.

District Attorney Ben David said no charges will be filed and suggested all of the officers should return to work.

"This was not a close legal call. This is a justified shooting," he said.

Police said the three men refused to comply with officers as they were leaving the business. Shots were fired and all suspects were taken to the hospital. They were found to have two weapons on them.

Roland and Robinson died as a result of their injuries.

On Nov. 6, Jhahie Dunham Mitchell, 20, was struck in the foot by an officer's bullet after police say the vehicle he was in accelerated toward officers.

Mitchell and two other men were suspects in a breaking and entering on Lamp Post Circle.

A resident told officers three men kicked in his back door and pointed a gun at him.

After a search of the area, officers discovered the suspects sitting in a gold Cadillac. Officers said they gave the suspects several commands and ordered them to show their hands. The suspects refused to comply with the commands and used the vehicle to charge at the officers. Two of the officers fired several shots at the vehicle, injuring Mitchell.

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