What we know about the police shooting of Edward McCrae

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Bishop Todd Fulton stands behind Mayor Allen Joines, as Chief Catrina Thompson and Councilman James Taylor look on. (photo by Jordan Green)

A Winston-Salem police officer fatally shot 60-year-old Edward McCrae during a traffic stop two days before Easter. Officer DE McGuire suggests McCrae was reaching for a gun when the officer fired. Law enforcement officials say they recovered a gun from the scene. Beyond that, many of the details of the incident are murky.

What happened? Edward Van McCrae was fatally shot by Winston-Salem police Officer DE McGuire during a traffic stop on Bowen Boulevard in northeast Winston-Salem at 10:34 p.m. on March 30. The police have said in a press release that during the traffic stop McGuire observed a man in the backseat, later identified as McCrae, making a “suspicious movement” and that the officer ordered McCrae “to stop reaching towards concealed areas” of the vehicle. After the officer called for emergency backup and ordered McCrae out of the vehicle, the two men reportedly struggled. The police said McCrae ignored McGuire’s commands to “stop reaching,” and during the struggle “a handgun became visible to Officer McGuire.” After further commands to not reach for a gun, the police said McGuire shot McCrae.

edward mccrae
Edward McCrae

Was a firearm recovered from the scene? Although the police press release doesn’t mention it, Capt. Steve Tolley, head of the criminal investigations division, told Triad City Beat on March 31 that a firearm was recovered from the scene and turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation, which sent a supervisor to respond to the shooting. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting. The State Bureau of Investigation also confirmed that a handgun was recovered from the scene.

What was the reason for the traffic stop? City officials declined to respond to a question about the reason for the traffic stop during a press conference on Monday. Chief Catrina Thompson was present but did not respond to questions; Bishop Todd Fulton, social justice chair of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity, said Thompson was constrained from commenting because the shooting is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation. But the Winston-Salem Journal is reporting that radio traffic between Officer McGuire and dispatch indicates the stop was for a license check.

Is there police body-camera video documenting the incident? Yes, the police department has indicated that Officer McGuire activated his body camera at the time he initiated the traffic stop.

Will the public ever see the footage? Councilman James Taylor, who chairs the public safety committee, vowed transparency during a press conference on Monday. “It is incumbent on the police department and the district attorney’s office to release the footage as soon as possible,” he said. In a previous case involving a man who died in the custody of the Winston-Salem police during an arrest on Dec. 9, 2015, District Attorney Jim O’Neill released police video. But since that time, the state General Assembly has passed a law declaring that police body-camera video is not a public record. The footage may legally be released under limited circumstances, but only through a court order by a superior court judge. Individual judges have made the call in different ways: In Guilford County, Superior Court Judge Susan Bray ruled in February that Greensboro City Council members may review police video of a contested encounter with a civilian, but may not make public statements about the content of the video. But in May 2017, Superior Court Judge Richard Gottlieb ordered the release of police body-camera video of a traffic stop by a Winston-Salem police officer. In that case, the city petitioned for the public release of the video as “the best way for the city to tell the whole story” after witness video by a bystander went viral.

What about the SBI report? In State Bureau of Investigation reviews of use-of-force incidents by local law enforcement, the state agency typically submits a report to the district attorney at the conclusion of the investigation. The decision is at the discretion of the district attorney. As Mayor Allen Joines said in response to a question at the press conference on Monday: “The answer to that specific question will have to await the final SBI report — that’s if the district attorney releases it.”

How has the community responded? The Ministers’ Conference, which played a prominent role in the community response to the 2015 death of Travis Page, presented a united front with city officials during a press conference on Monday. Bishop Todd Fulton, the social justice chair for the pastors group, touted the pastors’ rapport with Chief Thompson. “In the past we have not always had a very transparent working relationship with the Winston-Salem Police Department,” Fulton said. “But I’m grateful to say today that we do have that…. We are confident in our elected officials. We are confident in our police chief. She’s been very intentional about making sure there’s transparency, and before something bad happens, she brings us in as clergy. We have what’s called ‘trust talks.’… What brings us here today is we have loss of life with Mr. McCrae; our prayers go out to his family. We also have a police officer who’s under investigation, and our prayers go out to him and his family.”

Does the Ministers’ Conference speak for everyone in the black community? No. The press conference was designated for “press only” although it was also attended by numerous police officers and elected officials, but about 20 people gathered outside the building to demonstrate concern about the city’s handling of McCrae’s death. Michael Banner, an urban farmer who attended the press conference, told TCB: “They’re trying to put this balm over this like everything is going well. We’ve got the Ministers’ Conference and the NAACP speaking for us as if everything is great, when underneath it’s festering. The dynamics are very complex and there’s a lot of layers in this community, but they will turn their frustrations toward this. It’s like a boil. That’s what the community is going through.”

Officer DE McGuire

Banner added that he has concerns about whether the officers’ conduct unnecessarily escalated the situation.

“The police are known for sitting right there in that curve next to the park [where the traffic stop occurred] to catch people in traffic violations,” Banner said. “I thought they would be more sensitive to drivers. If you don’t have a license, they’ll shake the car down. People that have been to prison, they’re going to respond coldly to that.”

What was Edward McCrae like? Banner said McCrae’s expertise on the law made him a trusted advisor to other incarcerated individuals.

“Anyone who knows this man knows he’s a jailhouse lawyer — that’s not a derogatory term — a state pen lawyer,” Banner said. “He’s a refined, sharp lawyer, and he don’t back down easily.

“Edward McCrae was a very family-oriented man,” Banner continued. “He loved his family. He was not a loose person. He was actually someone who colored inside the lines. He was a very detail-oriented person — sharp, shaved and bald-headed. When he talked to you, you might take it that he’s talking very aggressively. He’s very convinced in what he says. He speaks from a very seasoned point of view.”

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