Psychiatric patient from Durham shot dead after Raleigh chase

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

A Durham man being transferred by a Wake County sheriff’s deputy to a mental health facility was shot to death Sunday after he allegedly stole the officer’s cruiser and led authorities on a chase in Raleigh.

The man was identified as Jonathan Lee Cunningham, 35.

Capt. Jimmy Stevens, executive aide to Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, said Cunningham was being transferred from the Wake County Crisis Assessment Center to Old Vineyard Behavioral Health Services, a psychiatric hospital in Winston-Salem, when he tried to overpower Deputy Jeremy Pittman on Interstate 440 near Lake Boone Trail about 9 a.m.

Pittman pulled the car over, and both men got out and continued to fight. Pittman slipped in mud, which allowed Cunningham to get into the cruiser and drive away, Stevens said.

Cunningham had been sitting in the front seat and was not wearing handcuffs, a decision deputies sometimes make when transporting psychiatric patients to avoid stressing them, according to Stevens. He said the Sheriff’s Office is reviewing that policy.

Deputies later found the cruiser near the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, where Cunningham led them on a chase on westbound Interstate 40 and I-540 until he crashed on I-540 near Leesville Road.

Cunningham ran from the scene, and after another struggle with deputies, was fatally shot.

Stevens declined to say how many deputies fired shots or who they were. He said the case has been turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation, which is standard procedure in an officer-involved shooting.

Wake sheriff’s deputies Matthew Johnson and Dusty Mullen have been placed on administrative duty while the SBI investigates the case.

Noel Talley, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, confirmed the SBI is investigating the shooting and will report its findings to the Wake County District Attorney’s Office.

Cunningham reportedly had lived at Croasdaile Apartments in western Durham until a few months ago, when he moved to another part of the city. He is said to have worked in the legal field.