Featured photo: Fred Cox Jr.’s mother Tenicka Shannon speaks out during the rally for her son on June 26. (photo by Carolyn de Berry) All photos in article by Carolyn de Berry. For a full gallery visit here.
Updated July 1: Responses from District Attorney Avery Crump have been added to this article.
A few years ago, when a family friend’s house burned down, Fred Cox Jr. went into his closet to give all of his clothes to their kids.
“That’s the kind of kid Fred was,” said Tenicka Shannon, his mother. “I asked him, ‘Well Fred, what are you going to wear?’ And he said, ‘I’ll wear this same outfit all week. I’ll find something to wear.’”
Shannon was joined in High Point by more than 100 people on Saturday for a march and rally in her son’s honor. Cox was just 18 years old when he was shot and killed by Davidson County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Shane Hill. Cox had been attending a memorial service at Living Water Baptist Church in High Point on Nov. 8, 2020, when cars driving past the church started shooting from the street, according to a police report and the medical examiner’s report. Cox, who was on the opposite side of the building from the shooting, began running towards the church for cover and helped a mother and son into the building before being shot and killed by Hill, according to a witness. Both the autopsy report by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as well as the incident report by the High Point police department note that Cox’s death was a result of a homicide. The police incident report lists Cox as well as two other victims but makes no mention of Hill. According to the report, no charges were made at that time.
Vivian Wright, the mother who was helped by Cox, said that she and her son Tavaris are alive today because of Cox’s bravery.
“I came out because I had to get that truth out,” Wright said. “Because the story in the community is false.”
Early media reports alleged that Cox was killed because he had a gun or was involved in gang activity. However, an official report by the Guilford County District Attorney’s office from early June stated conclusively that “there was no evidence presented that Cox Jr. was in a gang or that he discharged a weapon.”
According to the DA, Deputy Hill was attending the service to investigate the death of Jonas Tramone Thompson Jr., who was murdered approximately two weeks prior, and that Hill had notified both the High Point police and the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office that he was in attendance. However, early news reports stated that Hill was not in uniform, and that neither law enforcement agency knew about Hill’s attendance at the service. The autopsy report determined that Cox died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. Cox was the only person shot despite there being approximately 70 rounds of shots fired during the incident. Wright said one bullet grazed her 12-year-old son’s arm.
On June 1, a grand jury was presented with two bills of indictment for voluntary manslaughter and felony assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. After hearing witness interviews and viewing the evidence investigated in this case, the grand jury returned two no true bills of indictment, finding insufficient evidence to support criminal charges.
Who is Michael Shane Hill?
According to a public records request by TCB, Hill is still employed by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. He was first hired on Jan. 18, 2019 as a sheriff lieutenant. He made $51,257 per year at that time until he was demoted to sheriff deputy investigator on Feb. 16, 2020, about nine months before Cox’s death. The reason for Hill’s demotion was not clarified by the sheriff’s office. Hill was briefly suspended after shooting Cox from Nov. 8 to Dec. 15, 2020. As a sheriff deputy investigator, Hill was making $46,494 after being demoted.
While the public records request did not include Hill’s race, it did note that Hill is currently 43 years old. A voter registration for the only Michael Shane Hill in Davidson County shows that Hill is a white male and has historically voted for the Republican party. The voter registration for the Michael Hill in Davidson County also notes that the voter was born in 1977 which aligns with the age provided by the sheriff’s department.
‘Fred should not be dead’
On June 26, members of Cox’s family were joined by more than 100 community members as well as family members of other unarmed Black men killed by police. Also in attendance were attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who represented the family of George Floyd. The two lawyers are now working with Tenicka Shannon to find out why her son was killed.
“I’m honored because I get to stand for the people that I care about the most,” Romanucci said during the Saturday rally. “The people who represent loved ones who died because of warrior mentality and not guardian mentality…. Our police are supposed to protect and serve, they’re not supposed to be warriors and we will leave no stone unturned. We will peel back every onion layer and we will reveal the truth to you what happened to Fred.”
Romanucci, Crump and others who worked as part of the legal team for George Floyd’s family had a historic victory last week when they helped convince a judge to sentence Derek Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison.
During the rally, other family members of victims killed by police spoke out in support of Cox and his family. One of the most emotional speeches of the day came from Monica Wright, Daunte Wright’s older sister. Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis after the officer claimed to have mistaken her gun for a Taser.
“Since finding out, I’ve lost 30 pounds from not eating,” Wright said as she cried. “I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. It’s hard but I’m going to stand here and I’m going to talk. I’m his voice now. I’m not going to stay quiet. I don’t care how nervous I am at any event, I’m going to speak for my brother…. I want all of us to stand together with this family, with my family and I want us to speak and I want our voices to be heard.”
As family members of other victims spoke out, Shannon expressed her gratitude for the community support.
“I want to let everybody know from the bottom of my heart that I appreciate them,” Shannon said. “I can’t do it by myself. I’m fighting an army, a true gang because the police are a gang. And I appreciate all of the people helping me with this battle.”
Many who spoke during the rally pointed out the inconsistencies in the narrative before the official DA’s June report came out. Shannon said that they painted her son as a gang member and that he was brandishing a weapon and that’s why Hill shot him.
“They said he was in a gang,” she said. “What gang? He hung out with all kinds of people. He wore red, he wore blue, he wore orange, he wore pink. He was comfortable with himself going anywhere. So, was he guilty by association? He was in Tenicka Shannon’s gang because he was in my house and he listened to me. He’s gang affiliated by his mother; I’m his gang. I’m his big homie.”
Still, Rev. Frank Thomas of Mt. Zion Baptist Church of High Point made the point later during his speech that it doesn’t matter if Cox was in a gang.
“Even if he was in a gang, Fred should not be dead,” Thomas said. “Even if he did have a weapon, Fred should not be dead.”
Crump echoed Thomas’ assertion by mentioning the many white men who have been taken into custody safely by law enforcement even after shooting and killing others like Kyle Rittenhouse and Dylann Roof.
He, like others during the rally, stated that Hill needs to be held accountable for his actions, despite the grand jury failing to indict.
“I just came to say, just like we got charges for Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and we got charges for George Floyd in Minneapolis, we’re going to get charges in North Carolina for Fred Cox,” Crump said.
The grand jury didn’t indict. Now what?
While Cox’s mother would not confirm the next steps in how her family will seek justice for Cox, Jennifer McGuffin, an employee who works with Romanucci and Crump, said in a statement to TCB that, “civil litigation is being carefully prepared and will be filed upon completion of a thorough review of the facts to ensure accountability for the death of Fred Cox.”
Several questions remain unanswered in this case in the minds of family members and activists. Why was Hill at the back of the building when the shooting from the cars was taking place on the other side? Why is there no body-camera footage? Why was Hill shooting into the church where Cox and Wright were running to for safety?
“Why are you shooting recklessly into a church?” Shannon asked.
Wright, who took shelter in the church with her son after Cox opened the door for them, said that as she passed under his arm, that she could feel him getting shot.
“I hope that there is a special investigation launched and that this case is revisited, that charges are filed,” Wright said. “When [Hill] shot Fred and he went down, he kept shooting so who was he trying to get? If that was my son, what would he have said about my son? That he had a gun?”
Towards the end of the rally, Shannon had direct words for District Attorney Avery Crump, who activists and family say presented a false narrative about Cox for seven months before issuing her official statement in early June.
“District Avery Crump, I’m ready for you ma’am,” Shannon said. “I’m ready for all the smoke with you.”
According to Jonathan Jones, a lawyer out of Durham, there are two pathways that district attorneys can take when a felony case comes across their desk. They can either hand the case over to a grand jury, which is what happened in this case, or they can tell the charging agency that they should take out charges and arrest the individual. The case would then go through district court and then through a grand jury. However, Jones said that in cases involving police officers, they almost always go through a grand jury to start.
(Updated July 1): In a statement to TCB, District Attorney Crump stated that while there have been calls for her to charge Hill, that “what needs to be understood is that even if a decision was made to charge first, the case still would have had to go to the grand jury for them to decide if there is probable cause to proceed to trial. The grand jury found insufficient probable cause to charge the officer in this case. If a charge had been taken, then it would have been dismissed when the grand jury failed to indict.”
“It’s incredibly rare for an officer to be charged in North Carolina,” Jones said.
In fact, it’s incredibly rare for officers to be charged anywhere in the United States, according to data collected by Philip Matthew Stinson, a criminal justice expert at Bowling Green State University. An April Vox article that cites Stinson’s work stated that even though there are approximately 1,000 fatal police shootings reported each year in the United States, “the arrest rate is around 1 percent, never higher than 2 percent.”
McGuffin said in a statement that they “hope that the district attorney’s office is always ready and open to review any new evidence developed for the pursuit of charges ensuring justice for Fred’s community.”
(Updated July 1): In an email statement to TCB, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office stated that, “all evidence was presented to the grand jury by the SBI. There has been no new evidence. And District Attorney Crump has no further comments regarding this case.”