CMPD officer who fatally struck pedestrian indicted for involuntary manslaughter

CMPD officer who fatally struck pedestrian indicted for involuntary manslaughter
Barker (Mecklenburg County Jail)
James Michael Short
James Michael Short

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who struck and killed a man in July has been indicted by a grand jury for involuntary manslaughter, documents show.

Officer Barker, 24, was initially charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle in connection with the death of  28-year-old James Michael Short. Barker allegedly drove around 100 mph while responding to a call.

Court records show the grand jury returned the indictment in November.

Officer Barker is scheduled to appear in court in February on the new charge.

Barker's attorney told WBTV he's disappointed the charge has been upgraded.

"It's an overreach and I think if you were able to ask anybody at CMPD who is a patrol officer or an investigator they'll probably tell you the same thing" Attorney Michael Green said.

Green explained that prosecutors got a superseding indictment.

"And then when that goes to the grand jury, the grand jury convenes at least 12 up to 18 and if they can get at least 12 of them to say that there's probable cause then the charge becomes what it is -  which is manslaughter," he said. "Grand jury process is something we don't get to participate in so we don't get to put on any evidence so it's just them telling one side of the story."

As three CMPD patrol vehicles were heading to the scene, Barker struck Short who was crossing the road at Morehead Street near the intersection of Euclid Avenue.

MEDIC pronounced Short dead at the scene.

Speed was the primary factor in the crash, CMPD said. Putney said Barker was responding to an emergency with his lights and siren on and had a green light but his speed was "excessive."

In an interview with WBTV on Wednesday, Green said "I don't think the misdemeanor charge of death by vehicle was appropriate so I certainly don't think involuntary manslaughter is appropriate," adding, "You have an officer who puts on the blue uniform every day to come out and protect the citizens of this community, who had his lights and sirens on, who had all green lights."

Green said "It was 3:46 in the morning, down a straight road and you had somebody wearing all black who – I don't know why he ran out in the street or how he got out there -  but this officer was responding to a priority one call for service. And while it was an accident, it certainly wasn't a crime."

CMPD says officers have to act with 'due regard for safety.'

Chief Putney said Officer Barker's action was "a mistake of the head, not the heart" adding the officer had " the right intentions" but cited his youth and inexperience. The department says Barker has been employed with CMPD since January 25, 2016.

Barker was going around 100 mph in a 35 mph zone on Morehead Street at the time of the fatal crash, Putney said.

Barker was placed on unpaid administrative leave and turned himself into the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office, CMPD said.

"A lot of citizens in this exact same situation are issued a citation. If you want to treat everybody the same, you could of issued him a citation," Green said. "He's not a flight risk, he's not a danger to the community and I'm happy that the magistrates let him out on the fit and promise to appear. I'm disappointed that the police department didn't decide to issue him a citation.

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