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Home dedication, court ruling bring closure in UNC senior’s passing

A ceremony in Chapel Hill Saturday marked the dedication of the Courtland Benjamin Smith Memorial House, which will honor the memory of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior who was shot and killed last Fall.

The house will be constructed by members of UNC’s chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and other Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Courtland Smith was the president of UNC’s DKE chapter at the time of his death. The Houston, Texas native was pulled over and shot by Archdale, N.C. police officers Aug. 23, 2009 after he called 911 intoxicated to ask authorities for help, discussing thoughts of suicide and saying he had a gun.

Randolph County District Attorney Garland Yates ruled last month that the actions of Archdale police officers during the incident were justified. Smith repeatedly ignored officers’ warnings to retreat back to his vehicle with his hands up and continued to approach the police holding a concealed black object, WRAL reported Dec. 4. Investigators later discovered that Smith possessed a Blackberry cell phone, but no weapon.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer and several other news organizations filed a public records lawsuit requesting the release of video footage of the shooting captured on a police car camera. A Randolph County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the video would not be made public.

“[The sealed video] allows us to concentrate on the home,” Smith’s father, Pharr Smith told The (Durham) Herald-Sun during Saturday’s memorial. “We are celebrating a life rather than mourning a life.”

The Smith House will serve as a home for a refugee family from Myanmar. Lion and Zar Ree Wei fled the country’s oppressive military regime to settle in the Chapel Hill area. Both are now employed as housekeepers at UNC and they will live in the house with their six children, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Sunday.

“We see this project as an important opportunity for DKE to contribute meaningfully to the community and give the chapter, parents and alumni a constructive way to cope with the enormous loss we suffered after Courtland’s death,” said UNC junior Davis Willingham, DKE’s new president.

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