February 26, 2014

Sheriff’s office: York County deputy who shot driver made ‘life-or-death decision’

The York County sheriff’s deputy who shot an unarmed North Carolina man in Clover Tuesday night thought the elderly military veteran was reaching for a long-barrel shotgun instead of his walking cane, officials said on Wednesday.

The York County sheriff’s deputy who shot an unarmed North Carolina man in Clover Tuesday night thought the 70-year-old military veteran was reaching for a shotgun instead of his walking cane, sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.

Deputy Terrance Knox, 24, has been placed on paid administrative leave until an investigation into the shooting incident on U.S. 321 north of Clover is resolved, sheriff’s spokesman Trent Faris said.

Bobby Canipe, who lives in Lincolnton, N.C., was still in a Charlotte hospital Wednesday evening in stable condition.

Around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Knox, who has been with the sheriff’s office for about three years, stopped a white pickup with an expired license plate near Mosteller Street, officials said. In the truck was Canipe and a 74-year-old female passenger.

During the stop, Faris said, Canipe got out of the truck and reached into the truck bed to pull what Knox perceived to be a long-barreled weapon.

“Deputy Knox was forced to make a split-second, life-or-death decision and fired his weapon several times, striking Canipe once,” Faris said.

Canipe was reaching for a walking cane.

Deputies on Wednesday maintain that Knox’s actions were an “appropriate response.” Knox has been placed on paid administrative leave and the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident. SLED will report its findings to 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett.

Prosecutors will review the SLED investigation and evaluate whether any of the parties involved violated the law, Brackett said. If so, Brackett’s office can file charges. If not, the investigation is closed.

If there is key information missing, Brackett said, he can request further investigation.

Faris called the shooting an “unfortunate” incident and said deputies’ “thoughts and prayers” were with both Canipe and Knox.

The information Faris provided Wednesday afternoon was based on the dashboard camera video from Knox’s vehicle. Faris said deputies have turned the video over to SLED.

After reading a statement to reporters, Faris declined to answer questions about the incident, including whether Knox warned Canipe before he shot him and how many times Knox fired his weapon.

Two of Canipe’s nieces described him in social media posts at as a military veteran and a good person. They declined to comment further.

Carolyn McEntire, 74, Canipe’s friend who was in the pickup with him at the time of the shooting, said the family wouldn’t comment until they spoke with a lawyer.

No easy decisions

Candace McCoy, a professor and expert in police use of force at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said investigators will consider whether Knox was reasonably justified in shooting Canipe, a finding that is often subjective.

“It’s what was going on in the mind of that officer,” McCoy said. “If you reasonably believe that this officer perceived danger, even though there was not danger, then the officer is not out of compliance.”

But, she said, if the officer clearly broke the law, then criminal charges could be filed.

“When you really look into these circumstances and try to put yourself into the shoes of the officer, it’s not easy,” McCoy said. “It’s often juries that have to sort it out.”

Investigators also must consider lighting on the highway, the time of the day the shooting occurred, the angle and placement of the bullets Knox fired, the likelihood that Canipe’s cane looked like a gun and the position of the cane in the car.

“If all you see is a long stick and the guy has his hand on it,” McCoy said, “it’s not very clear.”

Traffic stops typically unnerve police officers because they are not “controlled situations,” she said. “Whatever is going on inside that car, they can’t see it. They get jumpy.”

Lorie Fridell is an associate professor and graduate director at the University of South Florida’s criminology department.

“There’s not a typical traffic stop that couldn’t turn into something much more,” Fridell said. “Officers are often vigilant on these traffic stops if they’re alone, if it’s at night. Something that seems simple to you or to me might, in fact, be a dangerous situation.”

In 1992, York County Deputy Brent McCants, 23, was shot and killed by two car thieves during a traffic stop on Dave Lyle Boulevard.

“We send (officers) out every day and ask them to make decisions,” Fridell said. “If they make the wrong decision in one direction, they’re facing criminal charges. If they make the wrong decision in the other direction, they could be dead.

“It’s incredibly tragic for everyone involved, certainly for the man, the family, the officer. But, we don’t ask officers to make perfect decisions; we ask them to make reasonable decisions.”

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