DA: Trooper’s use of PIT maneuver justified in fatal Moore crash
Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger has cleared a State Highway Patrol trooper of wrongdoing in a high-speed chase last summer that ended in a fatal crash when the trooper forced a fleeing driver to lose control of his car.
Authorities say 22-year-old Shonquelle Barrett tried to avoid a Booze It and Lose It checkpoint in Southern Pines on June 29, prompting Sgt. James Stahl to give chase.
The chase wound through back roads and onto U.S. Highway 1 in Aberdeen, where Stahl employed the precision immobilization technique, or PIT maneuver. The move involves bumping a rear fender of a fleeing vehicle to cause it to spin out.
Barrett then lost control of his 1999 Honda Accord, and it skidded off the highway and clipped a utility pole before slamming into a tree at 50 mph, according to a crash report. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Highway Patrol’s policy prohibits PIT maneuvers at speeds above 55 mph unless a trooper thinks the fleeing driver has committed a violent crime or other circumstances exist that warrant the use of deadly force.
The crash report shows Stahl and Barrett were both driving 80 mph when Stahl used the PIT maneuver.
Krueger noted that numerous cars encountered the chase at various points and that Barrett sometimes crossed into the oncoming lane. He was approaching the commercial district of Aberdeen and Southern Pines when Stahl used the PIT Maneuver, she said.
“These portions of U.S. 1 contain many restaurants and businesses and are heavily traveled, especially on a Friday night. There is also a significant pedestrian presence in the commercial district,” Krueger wrote in her findings. “As Barrett closes in on the busy commercial district, he shows no sign of slowing down or stopping.”
Investigators found bags of Xanax, oxycodone, marijuana and unidentified pills in Barrett’s car, along with a .40-caliber Glock magazine, a holster, two cellphones and nearly $2,000 in cash, Krueger said. A few days later, a .40-caliber Glock handgun was found in the grass at the intersection where Barrett first evaded the checkpoint, and investigators were able to link it to Barrett, she said.
Krueger said she reviewed Stahl’s use of force in light of the imminent threat of serious physical harm to the officer or others, the degree to which the situation was tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving, and Barrett’s attempt to evade arrest.
“Considering these factors and the circumstances of this situation,” she wrote, “it cannot be concluded that Sgt. Stahl used excessive force in utilizing a forced vehicle stop. Therefore, no criminal charges will be pursued against Sgt. Stahl.”
Barrett’s mother, Charlene Ross, doesn’t agree with Krueger’s decision.
“Officer Stahl, justice will be served,” Ross tweeted. “At the end of the day, what you did was wrong to my son, causing his death. This roadblock will not stop me. I will continue to be his voice and fight.”
Ross has said she was on the phone with Barrett during the chase, trying to get him to pull over. Since the crash, she has lobbied for a state law prohibiting law enforcement agencies from using the PIT maneuver.