NC law details when law enforcement can use deadly force

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina law says when a law-enforcement officer is allowed to use deadly physical force.

Monday, Akiel Denkins was shot and killed by a Raleigh police officer during a foot chase. Denkins was wanted on a felony drug charge.

Under state law, there are three circumstances that allows a law enforcement officer to use deadly force.

  • An officer can use deadly force to defend himself or a third person.
  • Deadly force can be used if a person is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon or if that person presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others without being apprehended with out delay.
  • A law enforcement officer can use deadly force to stop a person from attempting to escape from “custody imposed upon him as a result of conviction for a felony.”

The law details that it does not excuse excessive or unreasonable force.

Click here to read the law in full.

North Carolina News’ Sean Maroney spoke with a law enforcement source intimately familiar with how the Raleigh Police Department investigates an officer-involved shooting.

Here’s what happens:

  • Raleigh police immediately remove the officer who fired his weapon from the scene and take his weapon as evidence.
  • Raleigh police then sequester the officer in a room at the police station. The officer cannot talk to anyone else other than his attorney; however, someone can be there to be in the company of the officer as he waits.
  • The investigation starts at the scene with the Raleigh Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. The SBI must be requested by local authorities to investigate. This all occurs once the officer involved in the shooting is off-scene.
  • Investigators look for eyewitnesses and “outside witnesses” (those without a vested interest in the case). All witnesses are interviewed on tape as it is now a homicide investigation. Radio traffic is key to the investigation.
  • In the meantime, forensics gather evidence on the scene.
  • The officer has the right to an attorney. Most police officers pay a retainer.
  • The attorney then talks with the officer. They go over what happened according to the officer and based on that, they decide whether to make a statement.
  • If the SBI is investigating the incident, they speak to the officer in the presence of his attorney. The typical first question is “What is deadly force to you in relation to your duties? (The officer is expected to recite NC GS 15A 401 d2.) The follow-up question is, “What does that mean to you?”
  • Once all evidence is gathered (it can be a lengthy process, especially with witness interviews), it is all given to the district attorney. If the DA decides there’s probable cause that a crime occurred, it’s put before a grand jury of 12. That grand jury then decide if it should go to trial in front of a jury.

“We understand people have very strong feelings about these type of cases and its important people have places and ways they can deal with their concerns. We urge them to do that with patience and without violence. And we want them to come together as a community,” said Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman.


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