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Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Killing of Peyton Strickland

     Shortly before midnight on December 1, 2006, 18-year-old Peyton Strickland, a welding student at Cape Fear Community College, was at home playing a video game with his roommate, a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. When Strickland heard knocking at his front door, he got up with the game controller in his hand to answer it. Outside the house, sixteen police officers--nine SWAT team members from the New Hanover Sheriff's Office, three with the Wilmington Police, and four officers with the University of North Carolina Police Department--were poised to charge into the dwelling.

     Peyton Strickland and a University of North Carolina student who lived elsewhere, had allegedly struck a third student with a blunt object and had stolen two of his Playstation 3 game consoles. (The probable cause underlying the search warrant was based on information from an unreliable informant.) The police were at his door to arrest him for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and breaking and entering.

     Police officers at the front entrance saw Strickland approaching them through the door glass. For some reason, Strickland stopped, turned and walked back into the house. That caused an officer to strike the door with a battering ram. As Strickland turned in response to that noise, a deputy sheriff fired five shots, two of which passed through the door hitting Strickland in the head and chest, killing him on the spot. The officer discharged his weapon because he had confused the sound of the battering ram for gun shots coming from inside the house. Another deputy shot and killed Strickland's two dogs.

     The Hanover County sheriff placed three deputies on paid leave pending the results of the internal investigation of the shooting. The sheriff fired the deputy who had fired the fatal shot.

     A grand jury indicted the former deputy in December 2006 for second-degree murder, but a judge set aside the indictment due to a clerical error. (The grand jury foreman had checked the wrong box on an indictment document.)

     In July 2007, the Hanover County prosecutor presented the case to a second grand jury, but only 12 of the 18 jurors voted to indict the ex-deputy.

     Peyton Strickland's parents sued New Hanover County for the wrongful death of their son. In February 2008, pursuant to an out of court settlement, the county paid the plaintiffs $2.45 million. Nine months later, the family sued the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and their police department for leading the deputies to Peyton's door on the word of an unreliable informant. The defendants in that case, in February 2010, asked the court to dismiss the civil suit out on grounds of sovereign immunity. The judge allowed the case to go forward, and in July 2011, a North Carolina appeals court affirmed that decision. (As of April 2016, this legal action has not been resolved.)

     The Strickland case illustrates one of the hidden costs of militarized policing. Every year, city, county, and state governments pay out millions of dollars in civil damages and court settlements created by bungled SWAT raids and excessive force cases.


2 comments:

  1. Unbelievable - his poor family!

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  2. Not that the money wasted is a good thing, but a young life snuffed out like that for nothing, very sad indeed.

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