Who killed J’Mauri Bumpass?

That question has haunted the parents of the 18-year-old teen found dead of a shotgun wound in late 2019.

Last month, nearly four years after the teenager’s mysterious death, his family retracted a 2021 lawsuit that claimed the teen died at the hands of Durham County deputies and that Sheriff Clarence Birkhead tried to cover up the fatal shooting.

According to a sheriff’s incident report, it was about 12:39 a.m. on December 15, 2019 when a sheriff’s deputy reported Bumpass pulled out a handgun and shot himself in the head following a traffic stop on Meriwether Drive for what appeared to be fictitious tags. 

Deputy Anthony Sharp said as he was getting out of his patrol car, he heard a gunshot and saw the driver’s side window of Bumpass’s sedan shatter. The car then rolled forward about 50 yards before it crashed into a light pole and overturned on its side, according to the incident report.

Deputy Sharp waited for backup before he approached the overturned car, where he claimed he found Bumpass unresponsive with a 9mm Glock between his legs, and that the weapon was “expelling smoke as if it had just been fired.”

The Bumpass family members were not convinced. A series of motions requesting more evidence to bolster their claims that the teen’s death was not a suicide followed the 2021 lawsuit.

But last month, on April 4, the Bumpass family filed a three-page retraction of their allegations.

The teen’s parents, Hermena and Jerry Jerome Bumpass, Jr., stated in the court affidavit filed in the federal district court in the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro that his death caused them “intense emotional pain” that prompted them to seek legal counsel.

The family hired Durham attorney Allyn Sharp and later Emancipate NC, who filed a lawsuit against Birkhead and four deputies including Anthony Sharp Jr. and Robert W. Osborne III.

The complaint claimed that Sharp and Osborne “killed J’Mauri Bumpass and that Sheriff Birkhead” along with two other deputies “obstructed justice and covered up the killing.”

The Bumpass family withdrew their allegations “based on evidence learned in discovery” during the ongoing investigation of the case, according to the retraction.

Indeed, the Bumpass family and their attorneys went one step further in the retraction. They say they “admit” Bumpass was not killed by the deputies, nor did the sheriff and other staffers cover up the alleged killing.

In an email to the INDY, the Durham sheriff’s office said a lengthy discovery process revealed the teen “died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the right side of his head,” that he “owned and was in possession” of a handgun,” and “was alone in the car when the gunshot occurred.”

Birkhead, in an email to the INDY, said that the family’s “retraction of these egregious allegations validates what we have maintained all along, and what the findings of the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office showed, that Mr. Bumpass died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”

Birkhead added that he and his office “lived with this matter for over three years” and “responded to this matter in the most professional and productive way possible.”

Despite the family’s “unfounded allegations that we were responsible for Mr. Bumpass’ death, we allowed the facts to speak for themselves,” Birkhead continued. 

“This was a tragedy for everyone involved. Suicide leaves many questions unanswered for loved ones,” Birkhead wrote. “We will never know why J’Mauri took his life at that moment, but we hope that they are able to begin to heal.”

In addition to Sharp, the Bumpass family was represented by Durham attorney Elizabeth Simpson with Emancipate NC who said she became involved with the case in the past couple of weeks.

Sharp could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

Simpson would not disclose what evidence led to the family’s retraction.

“It’s really, really sad,” Simpson told the INDY

“The parents of J’Mauri Bumpass remain in a state of profound grief and request privacy and space to mourn, and request not to be contacted by any person about this matter,” reads the final page of the retraction.

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com

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