The fate of a CMPD officer who struck and killed a pedestrian while speeding on E. Morehead Street near uptown Charlotte now rests in the hands of a jury.
CMPD Officer Phillip Barker, 29, faces an involuntary manslaughter charge relating to the July 2017 death of James Michael Short, 28.
Driving more than 100 mph, Barker was on his way to an accident scene when his police vehicle collided with Short, who was in a pedestrian crosswalk. The speed limit there was 35 mph.
Following closing arguments on Tuesday, Judge Robert Ervin gave jurors final instructions before sending them to decide on one of three possible verdicts — guilty of involuntary manslaughter, guilty of misdemeanor death by vehicle, or not guilty.
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Barker could be sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.
Prosecutors in their closing argument said the charges are “based on the facts” that Barker violated his duty as a police officer by driving recklessly.
“If the defendant exercised the due regard for the safety of others, we wouldn’t be here,” Glenn Cole, a prosecutor, told the jurors. “That didn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, Barker’s defense team argued that their client was “doing his job,” responding to a “priority one” emergency call, which requires a rapid response from CMPD officers.
“There is no subsection for priority one call. A priority one is a priority one,” Michael Greene, Barker’s defense attorney, told the jury.
Prosecutors said the incident was foreseeable and that Barker’s speed was “reckless and unreasonable.”
“He is just like you and me. He has to follow the rules,” Cole said. “No one is above the law.”
Greene said state law has an officer exemption to traffic laws when officers are acting in their official capacity and show due regard for the safety of others. Barker did that, Greene said.
“If it’s your loved one (who needed assistance), you’re not going to say that officer was driving too fast,” he said. “You’re going to say they can’t get there fast enough.”
Greene said the state’s case against Barker — body cam footage and five witnesses — provided “very little evidence” to prove Barker’s guilt.
There should have been evidence from Barker’s patrol car’s black box — formally known as the event data recorder — to determine his exact speed at the time of the collusion, Greene said.
The jury will continue deliberating at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.