Police release video of N.C. Deputy’s shootout

Daniel Roy Smith of Winston-Salem North Carolina pleaded guilty recently to attempted murder of  Corporal J.W. Mecham of the Guilford County Sheriffs Department on Aug. 29, 2009. On that morning, Smith shot at Corporal Mecham as the deputy sheriff attempted to arrest Smith. The Guilford County Sheriffs Department released video of the shooting, taken from the deputy’s cruiser dash-cam.

Corporal Mecham stopped Smith while he was walking along a road rarely used by pedestrians at about 4 a.m. When Mecham checked Smith for outstanding warrants, he discovered he was wanted by federal marshals for escaping from a halfway house. As Cpl. Mecham attempted to handcuff Smith, Smith backed away and drew a gun from his waistband.

As Corporal Mecham attempted to create distance from Smith and draw his weapon, he fell backwards in the middle of the street. Smith then stood over Corporal Mecham and commanded him to “roll over”, then yelled “I’ll blow your brains out”. As Cpl. Mecham reached for his gun, Smith fired two rounds, missing Cpl. Mecham. Mecham responded with seven shots, striking Smith four times.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Smith has an “extensive criminal history, including prison stretches for bank robbery and other crimes involving guns and violent behavior. His criminal history lists 24 aliases, seven different birth dates and three Social Security numbers, none of which are his.

“Smith was previously convicted in federal court of two counts of bank robbery in 1988. He also has an aggravated assault conviction in Ohio and his criminal record locally includes an armed robbery conviction in Guilford County in 1975 and aggravated assault in Forsyth County in 1983.”

This video can serve as a great training tool. Second guessing officers is never an enviable task, however it is important for officers to learn from other’s mistakes. The number one mistake Corporal Mecham made was in not requesting backup. A recognized officer advantage and recognized suspect disadvantage is the foundation of defensive tactics. While Cpl. Mecham may have felt he had the advantage over Smith due to the age and physical differences between them, Smith in fact had the advantage of knowing he was armed, and when and how he was going to act. Having a second deputy present while Smith was pat-frisked would have saved a lot of trouble.

Secondly, Cpl. Mecham allowed Smith to wander around during the stop. At about 4:10 of the video (as pointed out by a commenter), Smith walks into the video patting the area holding the gun. Smith, no novice to the system, is aware that Mecham is checking him for warrants. He is probably going through his options for escape at that time and preparing himself to draw his gun and shoot a cop.

I also have to credit Corporal Mecham for a few things. His professional demeanor both before and after the shooting was exemplary. Even after he though he may have been shot, Mecham was clear in his communication over the radio and in his commands to Smith. Additionally, he did not swear at Smith, even after believing he may have been shot. This may seem like a small thing, but years later, when the video is played in a courtroom and on television, Corporal Mecham’s professional behavior will go a long way with a jury.

Finally, Corporal Mecham hit a moving target with four out of his seven shots. The average on target rate for a police shooting is about 20%. Mecham made those hits either from the ground or immediately after getting up. This is a great example of why rangemasters and firearms instructors need to incorporate movement and stress into training.

Hopefully, through the release of this video, we can all learn something to keep us safer on the street.

Thank you for your service Corporal Mecham.

The full video of the incident can be seen at Officer.com.

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
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