Former officer charged with tampering, lying after shooting

March 23, 2021 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A former Delaware police officer has been charged with evidence tampering and lying to investigators in connection with his shooting and wounding of a carjacking suspect.

A New Castle County grand jury on Monday indicted former Wilmington police officer James MacColl on felony counts of tampering with physical evidence and making a false statement to law enforcement. MacColl also faces a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct. The offenses carry no mandatory prison time but a maximum combined penalty of five years in prison.

Prosecutors claim MacColl changed the barrel of his department-issued handgun sometime after shooting 18-year-old Yahim Harris in February 2019. Harris was shot several times while running from a stolen car. He survived his injuries and is now suing Wilmington police in federal court, claiming they used excessive force and violated his rights “after he alighted from the vehicle, helpless, unarmed, and non-threatening.”

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The Delaware Department of Justice cleared MacColl of any criminal wrongdoing for using deadly force against Harris. A report issued in November 2019 noted police had been told by a dispatcher that the carjacking suspects were armed, and that MacColl did not fire his weapon until Harris, who had been driving the stolen vehicle, turned toward him and extended his arm while holding a black object in his hand.

While being questioned by police after the shooting, Harris denied being the driver of the vehicle and said he ran because he was on probation at the time. He also told investigators he had a cellphone in his hand as he ran and denied hearing any commands from MacColl.

Police said that as they were taking Harris into custody, a black cellphone case fell to the ground. MacColl told investigators that while officers were rendering first aid to Harris, he asked “Why did you shoot me? I didn’t have the gun anymore.”

Investigators found that MacColl’s recollection of events was corroborated by surveillance video and medical records of the injuries to Harris. They also noted that a handgun was found underneath the passenger side of the stolen vehicle. A juvenile who was a passenger in the car was later found delinquent in Family Court for possession of a firearm by a prohibited juvenile.

The indictment alleges that MacColl, knowing his gun would be confiscated by investigators after the shooting, reinstalled the factory barrel then lied to investigators about modifying the handgun without authorization.

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“Lies tear at the fabric of public trust, particularly when those lies are told by public officials,” said Mark Denney, head of the Delaware DOJ’s Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust.

A ballistics report issued about two weeks after the shooting matched spent shell casings at the scene to MacColl’s handgun but found that markings on the bullets recovered at the scene did not match the rifling of the barrel on the weapon MacColl turned in. But investigators noted that the inconsistency did not alter the legal conclusion regarding MacColl’s use of deadly force.

Authorities have said MacColl previously admitted replacing the standard issue barrel on his gun with an aftermarket barrel in 2017 to improve his firing accuracy, but that he has denied switching barrels after shooting Harris.

Denney said MacColl has been informed of the indictment and would turn himself in. Eugene Maurer Jr., an attorney representing MacColl on the criminal charges, declined comment Tuesday.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Harris in March 2020, noting that MacColl’s “total lack of candor” during the shooting investigation called into question his credibility as a witness.

“The ramifications of a lie in this case not only meant that an alleged armed carjacker went free, but countless other cases may be affected by the doubt, by the distrust in the public, and in our institutions and in law enforcement,” Denney said.