At 12:39 a.m. on December 15, Durham County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Sharp and trainee R. Osborne pulled over J’Mauri Bumpass’s sedan, which they believed to have fictitious plates, near the intersection of Old Oxford Highway and Meriwether Drive. Bumpass complied with the stop. But as Sharp was getting out of his patrol car, he says, he heard a gunshot and saw Bumpass’s driver’s side window shatter. The car then rolled forward, crashed into a light pole, and overturned on its side.

Sharp reported that he called for backup and approached the overturned car. He found Bumpass unresponsive with a gun between his legs, the gun “expelling smoke as if it had just been fired.” 

Bumpass was taken to Duke Hospital but died later that morning, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

But as the family’s lawyer points out, that wasn’t the first story law enforcement told. In the initial press release, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office said Bumpass had died from crashing into the pole. It didn’t mention a gunshot. 

Only three days later, on December 18, did deputies reference a gunshot wound, after a CT scan by Duke Hospital staff revealed shrapnel in Bumpass’s skull. 

The attorney, Allyn Sharp, says that autopsy results have not yet been released by the state medical examiner. 

The teen’s family is worried, and they want answers. And they’re wondering: If the fatal shooting was an open-and-shut case of suicide, why are sheriff’s deputies still investigating? They’re also suspicious: What the hell happened to their son, who was mortally wounded blocks away from his home?

The day after Bumpass died, a sheriff’s investigator told his parents that no contraband had been found in his car or on his person. His parents say he wasn’t depressed, nor did he have a history of depression. Later, when the family asked to see the recording from Deputy Sharp’s dashboard camera, the investigator told them the camera was broken. While their attorney Allyn Sharp submitted a wide-ranging public-records request on December 23, all the family has gotten back are press releases and the dashboard cam footage from the fourth patrol car to arrive on the scene. She was told sheriff’s deputies do not wear body cams. 

On Monday afternoon, the Bumpass family announced that they are asking the Sheriff’s Office to ask the State Bureau of Investigation to launch an independent investigation “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.”

Their attorney says that as of Monday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office has not responded to her request.

The Bumpass family and their attorney have enlisted the aid of the Durham chapter of Beyond Policing to help raise funds for an independent autopsy. They’re 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 

Contact Thomasi McDonald at 

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.