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Trooper’s chase of deaf man reached 100 mph before fatal shooting

Sam Harris, center, older brother of Daniel Harris signs to the crowd during a candlelight vigil on Aug. 22, to remember Daniel, a deaf motorist who was shot and killed by a state trooper on Aug. 18.
Sam Harris, center, older brother of Daniel Harris signs to the crowd during a candlelight vigil on Aug. 22, to remember Daniel, a deaf motorist who was shot and killed by a state trooper on Aug. 18. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

No more than 7 minutes and 30 seconds elapsed on Aug. 18 from the time a state trooper began chasing Daniel Harris to the approximate moment the 29-year-old deaf man was struck with a fatal bullet from the officer’s gun.

But that short clip of radio traffic between Trooper Jermaine Saunders and his dispatcher offers the most detailed account yet of the 7-mile chase, which started on Interstate 485 when Saunders said he clocked Harris’ Volvo going 88 mph in a 70 mph zone. It ended in a north Charlotte neighborhood, with Harris lying dead in the street not far from his family home.

If accurate, Saunders’ running account of the daylight pursuit challenges the belief by Harris’ family that the dead man may not have heard or understood the trooper’s commands.

Based on the audio released Tuesday by state troopers, that explanation seems unlikely. In his radio dispatches, Saunders describes a chase down I-485 that reached speeds of up to 100 mph, the mile markers whipping by. He reports twice trying to stop Harris’ Volvo, first by strategically ramming the vehicle, then attempting a “rolling road block” later in the chase.

Neither works. Less than three minutes into the audio, Saunders says he tried to “PIT” Harris out on the exit ramp from I-485 onto Rocky River Road. That’s short for “Precision Immobilization Technique,” in which an officer forces the fleeing driver to spin sideways and stop.

A video from a nearby motorist acquired by WSOC Channel 9 appears to show the immediate aftermath of the maneuver, with the cars of Harris and Saunders both stopped and perpendicular to each other. Harris, though, backs up and speeds off, with Saunders jumping into his car and again giving chase.

Before Saunders can complete his rolling road block, according to the dispatches, Harris evades it by turning onto Seven Oaks Drive.

There, according to a neighborhood witness, another state trooper already is blocking Harris’ route to his home. Seven minutes and 17 seconds into the transmission, Saunders reports that Harris has stopped his car and tried to flee on foot.

“Have a jump and run, jump and run,” Saunders called in, his voice rising.

Twelve seconds go by.

“Shot fired, shot fired,” Saunders says. “Got one subject down. Go ahead and find me a medic.”

The gunshot is not audible. Three minutes later, the dispatcher asks about the condition of the wounded driver.

“ ... Not sure of that right now,” one of the troopers on the scene responds. “Gonna put up some crime tape.”

Saunders, who joined the highway patrol in 2014, never describes the circumstances that led him to shoot Harris, who is believed to have been unarmed. The trooper remains on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, which could take up to three months.

According to public records, Harris was twice charged with resisting arrest in 2010. He was found guilty in Connecticut; in Florida, the charge was dropped.

Shannon O’Toole, a spokesman for the State Bureau of Investigation, said Tuesday that the agency has found additional witnesses to interview.

Seven Oaks resident Mark Barringer said he saw a highway patrol car driving near his home on Aug. 18, with lights flashing and smoke pouring from its hood. Saunders is believed to have been behind the wheel.

“It appeared to have been an aggressive car chase,” Barringer said. “I got a clue that this was not going to end well.”

The radio dispatches bear that out.

Twelve minutes into the audio back-and-forth, a medical team arrives.

Just before the 15-minute mark, Harris’ name is mentioned on the tape for the first time.

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696, @abell

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