Zebulon officer-involved shooting puts spotlight on mental illne - WNCT

Zebulon officer-involved shooting puts spotlight on mental illness

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Officer Travis Denny was placed on administrative duty after he shot 22-year-old Derek Smith in the chest during a shootout Saturday in Zebulon. Officer Travis Denny was placed on administrative duty after he shot 22-year-old Derek Smith in the chest during a shootout Saturday in Zebulon.
ZEBULON, N.C. -

A Zebulon police officer is on administrative duty after a mentally-ill man was injured during a shootout Saturday.

Officer Travis Denny was placed on administrative duty after he shot 22-year-old Derek Smith in the chest during a shootout Saturday in Zebulon.

On Saturday, the Zebulon Police Department responded to assist the Wake County Sheriff's Office with an assault in progress on Moss Road when the situation escalated with Smith bearing a rifle.

Police say Smith's grandparents had been trying to disarm him prior to the police arriving, and Zebulon Police Chief Tim Hayworth said as soon his officer pulled up to the house, Smith came out firing the rifle.

"The suspect fired a shot at the officers," Hayworth explained. "They assumed a position and one of the officers returned fire and struck Smith in the chest."

Zebulon Police has officers trained to deal with mental illness, but advocates say the current training for officers dealing with those with mental health issues doesn't go far enough.

"It doesn't have role playing exercises in the event someone has a weapon," said Ann Akland, with National Alliance on Mental Illness. "The training needs a little more work."

Akland said because the basic framework for the training already exists, if the officers involved get together on it, the police department could update the curriculum in just a couple of months.

Hayworth said in a different, less "volatile" situation, his Crisis Intervention Team "could have talked him down."

Denny was not injured in the altercation and Smith is recovering from his wound at UNC Hospital. Denny is on administrative duty pending an SBI investigation into the shooting as required by law.

Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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