Attorney for CMPD officer questions why arrest warrant and not citation

Updated: Jul. 13, 2017 at 8:37 PM EDT
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Barker (Mecklenburg County Jail)
Barker (Mecklenburg County Jail)
Short (Credit: Family)
Short (Credit: Family)
(Fred Craft | WBTV)
(Fred Craft | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Attorney Michael Green is not happy with the way Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) handled his client, an officer who is at the center of a fatal crash investigation.

Wednesday afternoon, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney announced that investigators had probable cause that a crime was committed and charged Officer Phillip Barker with misdemeanor death by vehicle for hitting and killing a pedestrian.

"What I think is sad is the fact that instead of issuing a citation for the charge, that this officer was arrested - and he was arrested prior to him being able to tell his story," Green said. "We were actually walking into the Law Enforcement Center to give a statement and then I was pulled aside and told that he was going to be placed under arrest for the charge of misdemeanor death by vehicle."

The collision happened just before 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

Police say James Michael Short was crossing Morehead Street near Euclid Avenue against the light. CMPD says three patrol cars were responding to what officers thought was an accident with injuries at a different intersection when Officer Barker, driving approximately 100 mph eastbound on Morehead with his blue lights and siren on, hit Short, who died at the scene.

Police say they charged the officer because of his excessive speed and lack of due regard for safety.

Previous: CMPD officer charged in crash that killed man, accused of going 100 mph in 35 mph zone

A spokesperson for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office said, "Charlotte-Mecklenburg police consulted with senior prosecutors about the case."

Officer Barker's attorney said he's troubled that CMPD issued an arrest warrant and had the officer processed at the jail.

"When I asked if they could merely issue him a citation - that request was denied," Green said. "And the issuance of a citation for the charge of misdemeanor death by vehicle is not something that is irregular. It's nothing that is irregular. It's not something that the general public doesn't get, and so I don't know why that was the decision."

WBTV asked CMPD for statistics for previous cases of misdemeanor death by vehicle that the department investigated.

A department spokesperson said that 2016 detectives investigated eight cases. He said in two cases, citations were issued. In six others, arrests were made.

Police said of the eight cases, two were vehicle versus pedestrian. The other six were vehicle on vehicle.

WBTV asked the department why they decided on an arrest warrant for Officer Barker instead of a citation.

In a statement, the spokesperson wrote, "After gathering information and evidence during the investigation, Detectives determined that excessive speed was the primary factor in the collision. The case will now work its way through the legal system. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Short and Barker families."

Police acknowledge that the officer was responding to an emergency call, had his lights and siren on, and had a green light on the traffic signal. They say they looked at the area where the collision happened.

"The compelling evidence here was that even with all the mitigating factors, we couldn't overcome the speed and the lack of due regard for the safety of others," Chief Putney said.

"If you look at any of the directives, of CMPD's own directives, they don't have anything that says if you're traveling 90 miles, 100 miles, 70 miles – they don't have anything that says that this is too fast," Green said.

Officer Barker is scheduled to make his first court appearance in August.

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