Daniel Kevin Harris was gunned down in front of his North Carolina home after he attempted to use sign language to communicate with the state trooper who pulled him over. The 29-year-old man was both deaf and speech-impaired and had no other means to talk to the officer.
According to CNN, the family of Daniel Kevin Harris is trying to find out what went so terribly wrong that their deaf loved one had to die at the hands of a man sworn to protect and serve the community. The victim’s brother Sam Harris, who is also deaf, believes the shooting may have occurred because of Daniel’s disability.
“The police need to become aware of how to communicate with deaf people, what that might look like and how to avoid situations like this from ever happening again,” he explained to WSOC using sign language.
The exact explanation for the deaf man’s death is still unknown, but the events leading up to the shooting began when a state trooper tried to pull Daniel Harris over for speeding at 6:15 p.m. last Thursday. For whatever reason, the deaf man did not immediately pull over and instead led the officer on a short chase that resulted in both vehicles getting damaged. Daniel Harris finally stopped his car outside his home and got out to confront the officer. At this point it is believed that the deaf man began using sign language to communicate with the police officer, who then shot Daniel dead at the scene.
It’s unclear if something about the deaf man’s gestures were seen as aggressive or if the sign language had anything to do with the shooting, but family members are convinced Daniel Harris was wrongfully killed. The state trooper was put on administrative leave following the shooting and the incident will be investigated. Dashboard camera footage of the interaction will be obtained from the officer’s vehicle and hopefully shed some light on what provoked the trooper to use his firearm on a deaf man.
“Because at least 20 highway patrol officers responded, it is taking some time to get all videos related to (this) incident together,” explained Audria Bridges from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Secretary Frank L. Perry of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety issued a statement about the death of Daniel Kevin Harris, urging the public not to jump to conclusions of any kind regarding the shooting.
“Any loss of life regardless of the circumstances is truly a tragic and sad event for all involved. Let us all refrain from making assumptions or drawing conclusions prior to the internal and independent reviews.”
Neighbors of Daniel Kevin Harris claim to have seen him using sign language with his family many times, and they never appeared to be hostile or violent people.
“I saw him out in the neighborhood signing with his family,” said Ryan Russell. “It seemed like a very peaceful family.”
— Benjamin YoungSavage (@benjancewicz) August 22, 2016
Accounts of the moment before the state trooper fired vary depending on who you ask. According to the Free Thought Project, the police claim the deaf man got in an “encounter” with the officer, suggesting that he may have approached with aggression. But witnesses say the state trooper shot and killed Daniel Kevin Harris almost immediately after he exited his vehicle. Detectives did confirm that Daniel was attempting to use sign language to communicate with the officer before he was shot, and he did not appear to be armed.
Harris’ family hopes Daniel’s death will prompt authorities to find a way to notify police officers that a citizen is deaf.
“We hope to change the DMV system by requiring states to set up a ‘DEAF’ alert to appear when law enforcement look up a car’s license plate. With this change, Daniel will be a hero in our deaf community.”
What do you think caused a state trooper to fire his weapon at a deaf man?
[Image via YouCaring]