A North Carolina court ruled this month that Charlotte Mecklenburg police officer Matthew Wilson will not be immune from paying damages that may be awarded to the family of a young boy he shot in 2010.
In 2010, Valinda Streater was stabbed by her boyfriend at her Charlotte home. Hey boyfriend fled the scene before police arrived. Streater described her fleeing boyfriend to police, telling them he was a large, 240 pound man.
Minutes later, police spotted Streater’s 15-year-old, 120 pound son about 50 feet away. He was carrying a kitchen knife with him that he grabbed in fear after seeing his mother being stabbed. When police saw the boy, named Jeffrey Green, they told him to drop the knife and come forward. Green began walking towards the officers, but was still holding on to the knife.
Police officers continued telling Jeffrey to drop the knife. He eventually did, and stopped walking towards the officers. He was 30 feet away when he stopped approaching.
It was then that Officer Wilson drew his gun and had it pointed at her son.
“That’s my son, please don’t shoot,” she reportedly pleaded.
Wilson fired four rounds into Jeffrey. The boy somehow survived, and Streater took Wilson to court after a police investigation ruled he did nothing wrong in the shooting. Wilson maintains to this day that he thought Jeffrey was a suspect in the stabbing and posed an immediate threat to his safety.
Wilson wasn’t found guilty in court. The jury issued a mistrial verdict. All out of other options, Streater sued Wilson and the Charlotte Mecklenburg police department in hopes of receiving at least some form of justice for the shooting.
Wilson filed for qualified immunity from the lawsuit, which would have let him off the hook from any possible damages the city may award to Streater. Qualified immunity is often awarded when a law enforcement officer makes a genuine mistake that results in a lawsuit.
On April 7, 2014, a panel of judges officially rejected his request. They said his shooting was not a reasonable mistake to make, and that therefore he didn’t qualify for immunity. Judge Max Cogburn made known his desire to deny Wilson immunity in August.
“It’s whether or not police officers have the absolute right, under these circumstances, to shoot,” Cogburn said. “And I can tell you, gentlemen, that’s not something that anybody wants in this town or this country, to say that if a fellow has a knife and he’s 30-something feet away, gun him down, because you have qualified immunity given to you by the courts.”