Police shooting of Charlotte gunman was self-defense, DA concludes

Rodney Rodriguez Smith
Rodney Rodriguez Smith

Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers were justified in shooting to death a man who fired on them after shooting a bus passenger, District Attorney Andrew Murray said in a report Monday.

The officers acted in self-defense in shooting Rodney Rodriguez Smith, 18, five times in an exchange of gunfire, Murray said in a report to police Chief Kerr Putney.

The officers had received a call June 2 about a shooting aboard a CATS bus on North Tryon Street. Uniformed officers Garret Tryon and Michael Bell responded separately to the scene that night.

Tryon later told investigators he saw the shooting suspect, described as a black man wearing a red shirt, walking up the street holding something in his waistband, the report said. Tryon stopped his patrol car and repeatedly ordered Smith to show his hands.

Instead Smith grabbed something from his waistband. Bell, who had just arrived, shined his car’s spotlight on Smith and saw that he held a handgun.

Smith fired at Tryon, the report said. Both officers returned fire.

“I got out of the car I went to [a]bout the front bumper of my own car and drew my weapon and focused on him,” Bell told investigators. “I took two or three breaths just to gather myself and steady my aim and I remember thinking the whole time, ‘Tryon, if you don’t shoot him you’re gonna die.’ Um, and as I’m getting out of the car I looked at Tryon, Tryon’s pointing at him yelling at him show me your hands.”

Smith ran up an embankment after the officers fired and fell to the ground, the report said. He raised his right hand, which Tryon said still held a handgun, and Tryon fired three to four more shots.

An image from the CATS bus shows a man the report identified as Smith seated and holding what looks like a handgun. A second image shows a man pointing a gun before the passenger was shot. An image from Bell’s body camera showed Smith pointing what the report said was a gun aimed at Tryon.

Officers said they found a 9mm handgun and a spent shell casing near Smith’s body. The medical examiner later found a second spent casing in Smith’s clothes. A box of 9mm ammunition was found in his pocket.

Smith was shot five times, the medical examiner found. One .40-caliber slug, fired from Tryon’s gun, was recovered from Smith’s body during the autopsy.

Murray concluded that deadly force was justified by the officers to stop Smith’s attack and defend themselves.

“Under the law, when using deadly force, the justification of using force includes all force necessary to end the threat,” Murray wrote Putney. “In this case, officers fired a number of times and struck Smith five times. The number of shots was not excessive given the clear nature of the threat. Therefore, I have determined that this shooting was justified under the law of North Carolina and agree with your decision not to seek charges against either officer.”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender