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Last December, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina police Officer Elliot Whitley responded to a call about a suspect who had broken into a car and pointed a gun at someone.
He chased the 14-year-old suspect, who turned out to have been charged in 46 prior criminal cases dating back to 2014. When Whitley caught up with the teen, the 14-year-old turned around and shot him.
This last week, the city of Charlotte released bodycam footage decisively proving events unfolded just like that. And yet, Officer Whitley is still being criticized by activists.
Police said in a Wednesday media release that, last Dec. 27, “officers were dispatched to a Larceny from Vehicle in progress call for service in the 6100 block of Winged Elm Court. The caller also advised that the suspect had pointed a firearm at a nearby citizen.
“Responding officers made contact with the suspect, who fled on foot. At the time, it was not known that the suspect was a juvenile. During a brief foot chase, the armed suspect fired at the pursuing officer, Elliott Whitley, striking Whitley in the shoulder.
“Officer Whitley returned fire and the suspect was not struck. The suspect continued to run with the weapon towards a heavily populated apartment complex as well as in the direction of other responding officers who were able to take the suspect into custody.”
Whitley was taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries, which were not life-threatening. However, WSOC-TV reported the bullet couldn’t be removed.
“The suspect was later identified as a 14-year-old who had an extensive felony history including charges in 46 criminal cases dating back as far as 2014,” the media release read.
“As is standard procedure with any officer-involved shooting, the Internal Affairs Bureau conducted a separate but parallel investigation to determine whether CMPD policies and procedures were adhered to during the incident,” it continued.
“The investigation determined that Officer Whitley was justified in his actions, including returning fire, due to the deadly threat posed by the suspect.”
The video, complete with the 911 call and officers providing context for Whitley’s actions and why they were justified, was released after a petition from a local media outlet.
WARNING: The following video contains graphic language and violence that some viewers will find offensive.
“[This] shows you just how quick things escalate,” Dan Redford, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told WSOC.
“Why this 14-year-old has a gun in the first place is beyond me. Why he tried to kill a cop this day, those are the questions that I think need to be asked.”
However, despite probable cause to chase the suspect, who was a danger to both law enforcement and residents, and clear evidence the officer had been shot when he returned fire, local activist and failed 2022 Charlotte mayoral candidate Lucille Puckett apparently thinks Whitley shares some of the blame.
Why? Because he was using naughty language straight out of the police car.
“I’m still, like, in awe because the officer gets out and starts cussing. It’s not a form of de-escalation,” Puckett said, according to WSOC.
“It didn’t seem like the teen had any intention at the beginning of shooting at this officer. His intention was to flee, to get away.”
The 14-year-old had a gun. The 911 caller reported he’d pointed that gun at a person. He was told to stop by a police officer who had little time to react — and he didn’t. When the police officer caught him, he shot the officer. But if only the officer hadn’t used the F-word when he got out of the car, Puckett believes, this could have all ended differently.
Just curious: How many of the teen’s prior 46 criminal cases does Puckett attribute to potty-mouthed policemen? I mean, he’s a juvenile, so we don’t have access to his name or record, but let’s take a guess. If law enforcement would have just talked to him more nicely, how many fewer criminal cases would this young man have been involved in? Fifteen? Twenty? All 46?
WSOC noted that Puckett “said the teen’s actions are wrong” after watching the video. However, that should have been a full-stop moment. Instead, she managed to come across as someone whose vision of youth policing seems like it was unduly influenced by listening to “Gee, Officer Krupke” on repeat.
“This officer could have been murdered, and people are more concerned about what the officer said, not what this juvenile did,” Redford told WSOC.
Thankfully, Puckett’s opinions don’t count in a court of law or an internal investigation — and, as previously noted, CMPD has found Whitley’s actions were justified. The focus, instead, needs to be on the tragedy that was averted and the tragedy now on our hands.
What was averted, of course, was Whitley’s death. However, a 14-year-old young man with 46 prior criminal cases is now facing attempted murder charges. This is the tragedy in too many cities across America, where murder rates have skyrocketed and police are overwhelmed.
Child-rearing matters. Strong families matter. Values matter. What transpired on the morning of Dec. 27, 2021, was merely the culmination of years and years where those were likely absent from this child’s life. If there’s anything we should be taking away from what happened here, it’s that.
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