In a two-week period spanning the new year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers shot and killed three suspects in the line of duty. After every such shooting, the Mecklenburg District Attorney investigates and makes an official determination about whether the officers’ actions were lawful.
That decision is usually the most important thing to come out of the memo the DA sends to CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, and none of the officers in any of the cases have been charged with a crime. But the memos explaining prosecutors’ rationale also give insight into broader police policy and crime trends.
So far, the district attorney’s office has released memos on a Dec. 24 shooting at Northlake mall and a Jan. 3 incident where police shot and killed a murder suspect. They haven’t released details about the killing of a man who fired multiple rounds at officers from a west Charlotte apartment balcony on Jan. 5.
Here are some things that stand out:
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▪ Gaps in the body camera policy
As I’ve pointed out before, CMPD officers working secondary jobs, like the officer who shot a suspect at Northlake Mall, don’t wear body cameras. But surprisingly, neither do officers who work with the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team. They don’t wear the cameras even though they’re more likely than other officers to be involved in situations where they’ll use deadly force.
The investigation into Germonta Wallace in west Charlotte on Jan. 3, for example, contains statements from the eight officers who fired shots, but there’s no video footage of the actions of the officers or the suspects.
CMPD has said its initial round of funding for body cameras only applies to patrol officers, who have the most interactions with the public. Charlotte city councilwoman Julie Eiselt, who heads the community safety committee, said the department needs to look at that policy.
▪ Felons get guns from law-abiding citizens
Wallace, a convicted felon, was legally forbidden to possess a gun. After he was killed, investigators traced his gun to a home break-in from 2009. It’s unclear how the gun came to be in Wallace’s possession.
Police have long said felons get guns from law-abiding citizens who don’t secure their firearms well enough, leaving them in unlocked cars or not locking them in safes.
▪ Split-second decisions
In both the Northlake Mall shooting and the killing of Wallace, officers had just a few seconds to assess the situation and decide whether to use deadly force.
The officer at Northlake Mall who killed Daquan Westbrook heard gunfire inside the Journeys store, but didn’t see the shots being fired, according to the DA’s account of event.
And Wallace and another suspect actually stumbled upon the contingent of Violent Criminal Apprehension Team officers who’d come to arrest him. The DA said he started firing when an officer shined a light in his face.