Witnesses speak in trial of CMPD officer charged with involuntary manslaughter

According to police, Officer Phillip Barker hit and killed a man on East Morehead Street in July 2017.
CMPD Officer Phillip Barker is accused of hitting and killing a man en route to a call in July 2017.
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 5:09 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The defense and prosecution teams offered their opening statements on Thursday morning in the first trial that involves a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) officer in years.

During the early morning hours of July 8, 2017, Officer Phillip Barker allegedly hit and killed 28-year-old James Michael Short with his patrol car in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood.

Short, a Central Piedmont Community College student, was walking across Morehead Street near the Dilworth Neighborhood Grille around 3:30 a.m. when the crash happened.

Barker was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle, and in 2019, the City of Charlotte paid $950,000 to Short’s family.

Investigators believe that Barker may have been going up to 100 mph when he hit Short.

During the trial on Thursday, the dispatch call for service was played, revealing that Barker was on his way to a Priority 1 call. It initially came across dispatch as a 21-year-old who had been ejected from a vehicle.

The prosecution shared body camera footage of Barker behind the wheel, receiving the call, speeding up and eventually crashing.

As soon as the collision happened, he called for medical help.

In opening statements, prosecutor Bill Bunting told jurors that this trial is not about whether they like police or not, but about negligent actions.

“That he showed a thoughtless disregard for the consequences of his actions, and that he betrayed the trust that this community placed in him,” Bunting said. “We will ask you to find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.”

Meanwhile, Barker’s defense attorney, George Laughrun, said Short also showed negligence.

“Pedestrians have a duty to look both ways, they have a duty to be vigilant, they have a duty to yield to vehicle traffic, they have a duty to yield to blue lights and sirens,” Laughrun said. “Phillip puts his trust in you, as we do, and we’re confident that after you hear all the evidence your verdict will be a not guilty verdict.”

He also argued that autopsy results showed Short’s blood alcohol was about three times the legal limit, and that he was dressed in all black when he was in the road, making it tough for Barker to see him.

Tommie Gentry, a part-time CMPD employee who teaches drivers training and firearms at the department’s academy took the witness stand to discuss vehicle stop time and emergency driving directives.

While on the stand, the prosecutor’s questions revealed that Barker did not reduce his speed while crossing intersections, and had only one hand on the steering wheel at the time of the crash, which would have been against protocol.

Meanwhile, the defense attorney presented Gentry and the courtroom with Barker’s driver’s training book, which showed perfect scores and high grades on all emergency driving courses.

He was also asked to explain the training he put CMPD officers through after this crash, which included a demonstration on what it takes to stop your patrol car at various high speeds.

Short’s brother, Joshua, was also called to the stand to testify.

He shared his close relationship with his brother, who he called Mike.

“I talked to him earlier in the week and we were going to go out,” he said.

Barker’s defense team asked him if his brother took his medications for mental health issues and schizophrenia the day of the crash.

“I don’t really know if he took those medications that day, but I do know that he was adamant about taking his medication,” he answered.

On Friday, Short’s friend 34-year-old John Jacik took the stand.

Jacik did not want to be on camera because of his emotional state.

He was in town visiting Short the night he died says he went out with him just hours before the crash.

He told the court that he and Short took shots of vodka at a hotel and then took an Uber to The Bar at 316 around 8pm.

At some point he says a bouncer made Short leave the club because he was too drunk.

He says their phones were dead, so he left Short outside while he went back into the club to find a charger. When he came back out, he says Short was gone.

Jacik says he could not find him, so he took a ride with others to a party and then back to his hotel. He was later awoken by police officers telling him his friend was dead.

CMPD Officer Steven Kelly, who was dispatched to the same call that Barker was that night, also took the stand.

The prosecution showed body camera footage from inside of Kelly’s patrol car and their questions revealed that Kelly drove 50 to 70 miles per hour and slowed down to clear intersections, while they say Officer Barker did not.

“I backed off as I was clearing intersections,” Officer Kelly told the prosecution.

“Why’d you back off?” the prosecutor asked.

“I reached the speed I was comfortable with,” he said.

“Do you feel your speed was appropriate for the call?“ they asked.

“Yes,” Officer Kelly said.

The defense team made the argument that Officer Barker would have no reason to expect any foot traffic at the time of this crash, which was around 3:30am, as bars close at 2am and there were no big events that night.

The final witness Friday was a crime scene investigator Shari Walton. The prosecutor asked her to explain photos she captured from the scene.

The trial continued Monday morning with cross examination of this investigator.

In a turn of events that surprised the judge, the defense decided not to call forth any witnesses, despite initially stating that Officer Barker would testify.

Closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday.

Related: Trial of Charlotte officer accused of hitting, killing pedestrian set to begin