Deaf man’s family says he was unarmed when killed by trooper

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A deaf man who was shot and killed by a North Carolina state trooper after he didn’t stop for the officer’s blue lights was unarmed and likely did not understand the officer’s commands, the slain man’s family says.

Daniel Harris’ family said they want to make sure the incident is investigated thoroughly and also want the state to make changes so officers will immediately know they are dealing with a hearing-impaired driver.

Trooper Jermaine Saunders tried to pull Harris over for speeding Thursday evening on Interstate 485 near Interstate 85 in northeast Charlotte. Harris did not stop, leading the trooper on a 10-mile chase, the Highway Patrol said in a statement.

Harris stopped in his neighborhood within sight of his home. Harris and Saunders had what the State Bureau of Investigation described as “an encounter,” leaving the 29-year-old man shot at least once and dead in the street.

Authorities have released little information about the investigation, including any possible body camera or dashboard camera footage or whether a gun was found near Harris. Saunders has been placed on administrative leave. A spokeswoman for the SBI, which is handling the investigation, didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to questions, including whether authorities have interviewed Saunders yet.

Harris’ family is raising money for his funeral and will use any extra money toward educating police officers on how to handle hard of hearing people and calling for a system to alert officers they are dealing with a deaf driver when they enter information into their computers, according to the family’s posting on YouCaring.com.

“You don’t see deafness the way that you see the difference in race. We need to change the system,” Harris’ brother Sam said to reporters using sign language and an interpreter after the Monday night vigil.

Sam Harris is deaf, and so are his brother’s parents and other family members. They signed with each other as an Associated Press reporter knocked on their door Tuesday.

Sam Harris didn’t want to talk Tuesday, but wrote a note leaving an email address for an interpreter, who did not immediately respond.

After the Monday night vigil, Sam Harris told reporters about a frightening encounter he had with an officer.

“I pulled over and within a few seconds, the officer is at my window with his weapon drawn and in my face. I’m deaf! I’m deaf! I’m deaf!” he signed, putting his hands on his ears in exaggerated motions.

The Associated Press left messages with two State Highway Patrol spokesmen about what training the patrol offers for dealing with deaf drivers.

Harris is white, and authorities said they did not know Saunders’ race.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jeffrey-collins

Martha Waggoner reported from Raleigh, N.C. She can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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