These days, there are only two kinds of truly steady employment: The military, and the defense contractors that supply them. Fayetteville, North Carolina has both; home to Ft. Bragg, and the hub of no less than eight defense contractors including Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop and L3 Communications, Fayetteville has proven an attractive locale for those who make a living from the death and destruction complex.
Those people need someone to protect their hard-earned stuff, and who better than those who’ll shoot a running man in the back?
At 8:05 p.m. May 1st, 20-year-old Lawrence Graham was riding with a friend when the police pulled them over for window tint that was too dark. As officer Phillip Burlingame searched the driver Antoine Willis, 24, Graham climbed over the center console, exited through the driver-side door and ran for it, toward the front of the car.
Graham, who’d had a couple of minor misdemeanors before, had reason to be concerned. The driver was on probation, carrying both pot and ecstasy, and was driving on a suspended license; Graham himself was carrying a .40-caliber Glock he knew had been reported stolen. As he exited the vehicle, he threw the gun over the car and into the neighbor’s yard.
The police did not report seeing him pull the gun out and throw it; they didn’t know it was in the yard until it showed up in a search afterward.
The backup officer Burlingame had called beforehand, officer Denton Little, reported something else, though. Little reported that, as Graham ran away, he spun around and pointed a gun at him and at that point, Little fired three times, dropping Graham about 30 feet ahead of the car. That hat might have been the end of the story, except Graham was clearly shot through the back, two of the shots severing his spinal cord and rendering him paralyzed.
Upon later investigation, it was found that neither officer saw Graham throw the gun, that he couldn’t have had a gun when he was shot, and that he was, in fact, running away when he was shot through the back.
When Graham’s family attorney Allen Rogers reviewed the video (after twice being canceled on by the police department), he confirmed that Graham was in full sprint, in the car’s headlights, when he was shot in the back. He did nothing so much as resemble turning around, let alone point a gun at Little. Rogers said “There is no video of Lawrence Graham turning toward officer Little with a weapon.”
When asked to explain the wounds to the back, Police Chief Harold Medlock gave some excuse about how a person can “change position” when he is “dynamically moving.” Yes, dynamically moving…as in running away.
Graham survived the initial encounter long enough to find himself paralyzed and charged with assault on a law enforcement officer for pointing the gun at Little. Two months later, a blood clot from the paralyzing shot broke free, killing him on July 2nd. The medical examiner reported the cause of death as a pulmonary embolism, noting additionally that “the ultimate cause of death was the two gun shots in Lawrence Graham’s back by Officer Little.”
Afterward, the State Bureau of Investigation kangaroo courted its way to the decision that Little had “acted appropriately” when he shot Graham in the back. He has been cleared of all charges.
While Little won’t spend any time in jail, the family still has a civil case for wrongful death, and they will be pursuing it. Attorney Rogers fully expects that Little will be found liable in a civil suit, and is currently negotiating with police representatives over the buy-out price of a human life.
No amount for Graham’s mother, Tracie Knight, would be enough though. The injustice here has nothing to do with the monetary value of her son’s life, but the simple wrongness of Little’s acquittal.
“How can you explain shooting a person in the back,” asked Knight “Where was the threat? The man that took my son’s life, that murdered my son, that’s going to walk — to me, there’s no justice at all.”
Little has since returned to work, serving and protecting Lockheed employees’ stuff. Oh, and driving his #8 race car at Fayetteville Motor speedway. So, happy ending after all.