Charges dropped against unarmed teen shot by Wilmington police after officer's credibility questiond
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Prosecutors are dropping carjacking and weapons charges against an unarmed teenager who was shot by police last February, saying the Wilmington police officer who opened fire was dishonest about whether he changed the barrel of his gun.
The Department of Justice is reopening an investigation into the conduct of Wilmington Cpl. James MacColl, after previously clearing him in the shooting of then-18-year-old Yahim Harris.
In an 11-page use-of-force report released in November, the department's Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust said the shooting was justified despite findings that projectiles found at the scene did not match the officer's service weapon that he turned in, or another weapon found at the scene.
In court documents dismissing the charges filed late Tuesday, prosecutors said they learned last month that in interviews with his department, MacColl contradicted himself about whether he had replaced the barrel of his Wilmington Police
"Corporal MacColl's recent disclosure that he had previously switched his gun barrel and his total lack of candor during the pendency of the investigation calls into question his credibility as a witness," deputy attorney general Timothy Maguire wrote.
This is different from the stance the justice department took in November after clearing MacColl. When asked then about MacColl’s service weapon being altered, causing the ballistics discrepancies, the agency’s spokesman would only say that they were sure MacColl had fired the gun.
"The conclusions of the report are not affected by the discrepancy and any discrepancy would become a matter for the officer's agency," department spokesman Mat Marshall said last year.
'Lack of credibility'
On Jan. 27, according to prosecutors, MacColl "admitted to switching WPD's standard-issue barrel with an aftermarket barrel in the summer of 2017, without WPD's permission, to improve his firing accuracy."
MacColl then said he had not switched the barrel back again, after shooting Harris on Feb. 2, 2019, prosecutors said.
He said that after the shooting he used the restroom at the police station twice, unsupervised, before turning in the weapon, according to prosecutors. He said he recalled on one occasion taking off the firearm and his duty belt while he used the restroom, then putting them back on.
"Corporal MacColl provided no explanation as to how the barrel could have been switched between when he fired it and when
it was tested," Maguire wrote.
Prosecutors said they are dropping charges against Harris because they cannot prove the case without calling MacColl as a witness.
"We cannot and will not present a witness with such a clear
lack of credibility," Maguire wrote.
Wilmington Police spokesman David Karas declined to comment.
"It is not our practice to comment on investigations or matters being handled by other agencies, and we are not able to comment on matters contained in the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, which is codified in Delaware State Code," Karas wrote in an email.
Prosecutors on Tuesday wrote that Wilmington police had previously withheld MacColl's department interviews under the
Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which provides police certain protections during internal investigations.
Prosecutors only learned of the interviews through a source and obtained them through a subpoena, they wrote.
Harris and a 15-year-old co-defendant were pulled over by Wilmington police after a motorist called 911 to report two young, masked men came up to her, told her to move and left in her car, according to the justice department's November report.
The department said as Harris ran from the car, he turned and extended his arm toward the officer. MacColl told investigators he believed Harris had something in his hand when he extended his arm.
MacColl fired, striking the teen several times.
According to the report, as MacColl tended to the injured teen, Harris asked why he had been shot, saying, "I didn’t have the gun anymore."
Terence Jones, a former Philadelphia Police officer turned civil rights investigator who worked for Harris' defense, disputed the findings last fall, saying if the justice department were to enlarge and enhance the surveillance video of the incident, they would see Harris' hand was empty.
While a loaded handgun was found underneath the car Harris had run from, the teen did not have a weapon on him.
The case drew the attention of activists who held public rallies and attended City Council meetings in support of Harris. They said the case demonstrated the need for greater oversight of the Wilmington Police Department, including the adoption of body-worn cameras.
Harris has been in prison on $100,000 bail while awaiting trial. His mother, Jonda Harris, said Tuesday she is looking forward to having him home.
"What I want out of this is just for Yahim to get his life back on track, for all of us to get our lives back on track," she said.
She said she hopes MacColl is "held responsible."
This was at least the second police-involved shooting in which MacColl was cleared.
A report issued in May 2016 by then-Attorney General Matt Denn's office cleared the officers but took the unusual step of singling out Senior Cpl. Joseph Dellose for "extraordinarily poor police work" during the incident and said Dellose should not be employed by Wilmington police in any role where he would carry a firearm in public.
Contact Jeanne Kuang at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2476. Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, email@example.com or Twitter @eparra3.