Responding to a family’s demand that the State Bureau of Investigation investigate their 18-year-old son’s apparent suicide during a traffic stop on December 15, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office says the SBI has declined to take up the case.
In addition, the DCSO told the INDY Tuesday that it could not release evidence that the family of J’Mauri Bumpass had requested because its investigation is ongoing.
In an email, Sheriff’s Office spokesman David Bowser said that when investigators first met with the family on December 16, the officers discussed their “initial findings and [desire to] answer any questions for them.”
Two days later, on December 18, the Sheriff’s Office made public a preliminary autopsy report from the state medical examiner. The report indicated that Bumpass “died as a result of a ‘close-range gunshot wound, consistent with suicide.’”
“Since that time investigators have remained in communication with the family either directly or indirectly, or through their attorney, sharing whatever information we are able to get,” Bowser wrote.
But the teen’s parents are suspicious: What the hell happened to their son, who was mortally wounded blocks away from his home while driving to pick up his sister?
The family’s attorney, Allyn Sharp, has repeatedly emphasized that Bumpass was not depressed, nor did he have a history of depression. The family also says Bumpass was engaged with his family and community, and he had plans to attend Durham Tech and earn an associate’s degree and then transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill. He wanted to be a sports medicine doctor.
Bumpass—a member of the Baha’i faith who played drums at the Baha’i center—graduated early from Hillside High in the winter of 2018. He did not have a criminal record, and Allyn Sharp says he was working at FedEx and had applied for financial aid to help pay for college.
“J’Mauri injured his Achilles [heel] while trying out for the high school basketball team, which is what inspired him to want to study sports medicine,” Allyn Sharp says.
He loved his family and was a big part of his siblings’ everyday lives, she adds, especially his three-year-old autistic brother, of whom he was very protective.
None of that tracks with suicide, his family says.
According to the official account, Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Sharp—no relation to Allyn—reported that Bumpass pulled out a handgun and shot himself in the head just after midnight on December 15 following a traffic stop on Meriwether Drive in North Durham. Deputy Sharp and a trainee said they had pulled Bumpass over for what appeared to be fictitious tags.
Bumpass complied with the stop. But as Deputy Sharp was getting out of his patrol car, he reported, he heard a gunshot and saw the driver’s side window of Bumpass’s sedan shatter. The car then rolled forward, crashed into a light pole, and overturned on its side, according to an incident report.
Deputy Sharp reported that he called for backup and then waited for more deputies to arrive before he approached the overturned car, where he found Bumpass unresponsive with a gun between his legs. He said the gun was “expelling smoke as if it had just been fired.”
Bumpass was taken to the Duke Hospital and died later that morning.
It was on January 14, when the family requested that the SBI investigate “in order to avoid any possible conflict or the appearance of any conflict in having the Sheriff’s Office be solely responsible for investigating the possible actions of its own officers in a traffic stop which resulted in the shooting death of the driver.”
Bowser told the INDY Tuesday that the Sheriff’s Office requested assistance from the SBI, but the state agency “declined to provide” an independent investigation.
When the family asked to see the recording from Deputy Sharp’s dash camera, the Sheriff’s Office investigator told them the camera was broken.
Allyn Sharp submitted a broad public-records request to Sheriff Clarence Birkhead on December 23, but she said on Monday that the Sheriff’s Office has only given the family press releases and the “dash camera recordings from a single sheriff’s vehicle, evidently, the fourth to arrive at the scene.”
“Much of the additional information the family requested cannot be released under public records law,” Bowser says. Bumpass’s death remains under investigation, he adds.
Which leads the Bumpass family to wonder: If the shooting was an open-and-shut case of suicide, why are sheriff’s deputies still investigating?
Allyn Sharp on Wednesday said the Bumpass family is still asking members of the public to contact them if they have information about what happened that night, according to a press release. Allyn Sharp can be reached at 919-265-9200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Thomasi McDonald at email@example.com.
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