Analysis: No Compensation If Police Kill You

By Dr. Kim Muktarian

Cases throughout North Carolina that involve officers and fatalities, rarely get settled with financial compensation for the victims. The dead can’t talk and usually don’t have any evidence to present. 

One such case involves two young black men, two police cars and an early morning encounter.

On June 5, 2013, at 3 a.m., Maurice Harden and Trindell Thomas were riding together on a motor scooter, heading to a friend’s house in Southeast Raleigh. The 20- and 21-year-olds were mere feet from their destination when they were struck and killed by a speeding police car.

The police car was traveling 77 miles per hour, over a blind hill, with a speed limit of one-third of what the officer was going. According to the police reports, the impact launched the boy 180 feet in the air and the police car only stopped because the scooter was wedged under it.

The officer that hit and killed the two men stated that he did not see them until he was 5 feet away from them and there was no time to stop. His reason for racing over the hill was that he was chasing a speeding car. 

The officer had no lights on, nor did he have his siren operating. He approached the peak of a steep hill, in the middle of the night, in complete darkness, with no lights on and in complete silence. The officer was never charged with negligence or any wrongdoing.

In North Carolina there is a law that states that if you contribute even 1 percent to an incident as a result of an encounter with law enforcement, then you have no grounds to sue, and the officer cannot be held liable. 

In the case of these two young men, the officer claimed that the scooter’s lights were dim, thus contributing to the incident. For this reason their deaths, or should I say their lives had no value.

Another incident that happened in 2016, and also in Raleigh, was an attack on a 16-year-old girl by a law enforcement dog.  Sade Tomlinson was attacked after she and her friends left a car that they were riding in, on the side of the road, in a ditch. 

The young man that was driving the car made a turn that was too wide onto a side street and ran into the ditch. Unable to get the car back onto the road the kids ran away and left the car. 

There were no drugs, no alcohol and no weapons found either in the car nor on their person, but because they were afraid of getting in trouble with their parents, they left the scene. Police officers came to the scene and started searching for the teens that were in the car.

According to reports, one of the officers had a dog and his handler lost control of the animal. He said that the dog broke off of his leash after sniffing some articles from the car and ran into the neighborhood and attacked Tomlinson. The first officer on the scene of the attack did nothing to get the dog off of young woman. He stated that it was not his dog. 

Bystanders pleaded with the officer to shoot the dog, but he would not. Apparently the dog’s life was worth more than Ms. Tomlinson’s life. To date local government has not made any effort to compensate Tomlinson for her life-altering injuries. Though there was an officer that witnessed the attack on the young woman, no “human” fault has been assigned in this case.

Last January, Curtis Mangum was pulled from the back seat of a vehicle by Raleigh police. They suspected him of having drugs on his person. Once he was wrestled out of the car the officers tried to get Mangum to spit out whatever he had in his mouth. Even though the officers suspected that Mangum had swallowed narcotics, they did not take him to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. Instead they took him to the police precinct to have him strip searched. Mangum died the next day. 

It is not clear what transpired inside the precinct. Released to the public was video footage of Mangum entering and leaving the police precinct, but nothing at all of the events that happened inside of the walls of the jail. This case was closed with no charges filed and no compensation to his family.

In Alamance County, Courtney Jermaine Watlington was in a high-speed chase in the rural portion of Burlington when he lost control of his car, rear ended another car and hit a light pole. The sound of the crash brought people out of nearby homes and businesses. 

According to witnesses, a few people tried to go to the aid of Watlington when a State Trooper pulled a gun out and ordered them to back up and not help Watlington as he yelled for help from the passenger seat. A few minutes later Watlington’s car burst into flames. The next day he was dead. There have been no charges filed in this case and no compensation for his family.

These are only a few examples of injustices, but there are so many more that happen across the state everyday. From hangings in Bladen County to the shootings of unarmed black men in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina has a long way to go to close the social injustice gap.