Content Warning: The following video is extremely graphic
SILER CITY — A retired N.C. Highway Patrol supervisor who analyzed the dashcam video for the News + Record of a traffic stop resulting in a Staley man’s death has described the actions of Chatham County Trooper Rodney Cook during the incident as "textbook."
Footage from the May 30 seatbelt violation stop that ultimately ended in the shooting of 21-year-old Mark Anthony Diaz man was released by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol on Tuesday. The video shows Diaz stepping out of the car and brandishing a handgun before being shot by Cook.
Tim Bolduc, a 41-year law enforcement veteran, helped supervise Cook's training when Cook — who’s based in Chatham County — was starting out as a trooper with the NCHP.
‘He did everything correctly’
Cook's actions, Bolduc said, were in compliance with N.C.'s “deadly force” statutes and were justified, given that Diaz brandished a gun after being stopped for a seatbelt violation that afternoon on Harmony Drive, near Solo Drive in Siler City.
“The deadly force statutes say if you’re in fear of your life then you’re licensed to use your weapon,” Bolduc said. “He complied, in my opinion, with the North Carolina general statutes and the training I’ve been taught.”
The North Carolina deadly force statute — Article 20, Chapter 15A-401, Subsection d — says an officer is justified in using deadly force on another person for one of three reasons:
“I wish people would understand that when you brandish a gun, that’s what law enforcement is trained to do,” said Bolduc, who worked many years as a patrolman and supervisor in Lee County, as well as in the governor’s office. “We go by standards of state law and deadly force statutes. There are only certain situations where we are trained to use deadly force. When we shoot it's because deadly force is being authorized.”
Troopers in the state patrol are not trained to fire “warning shots” — rather, in situations where their own lives are threatened, they are trained to kill.
Diaz is the seventh person to be shot by regional law enforcement this year and the sixth to die. The other fatal shootings involved Raleigh police, Durham police, Durham County sheriff’s deputy and Duke campus police.
“From the start of the stop until the end of the shooting he did everything correctly,” Bolduc said. “The subject clearly got out of the vehicle with a gun and at that point, Cook is compliant with state law, as far as I’m concerned. This was like a training video we would use to reinforce the proper way to do it.”
Cook has been a member of the State Highway Patrol for 16 years and has been placed on administrative duty pending an internal investigation, which is routine in trooper-involved shootings.
What the video shows
The dashcam video shows Cook spotting a white pickup truck with the driver and passenger without seatbelts on U.S. Hwy. 64. Cook then makes a U-turn to pursue the pickup truck before signaling for them to pull over. Diaz pulled over on Harmony Drive, near Solo Drive.
Trooper Cook identifies himself to Diaz and the passenger and asks why they were not wearing seatbelts. He then asks for identification; Diaz responds that he doesn’t have any with him. In the audio of the video, Cook is heard asking Diaz to step out of the vehicle and suspects there is marijuana.
As Diaz begins to open the door, he brandishes a pistol. The two engage in an altercation where Cook attempts to disarm Diaz. After failing to block the pistol, Cook retreats behind the truck in an effort to get to his patrol car.
As Cook runs toward his patrol car, Diaz points the gun out the window, while the passenger — later identified as a minor by investigators — opens his door and runs away. Diaz then steps out of the car with the pistol in his hand. Cook fires his weapon, striking Diaz.
Emergency Medical Services is contacted via Cook’s radio and Cook begins emergency medical procedures, including CPR, once Diaz is deemed no longer a threat. Diaz was transported by emergency medical personnel but died from his injuries later that day.
Cook was not injured in the incident.
‘He did what he had to do’
During his years on the force, Bolduc, who now lives in Vass, said he was involved in two shootings. He said the scenarios differed significantly from Cook’s and neither caused casualties.
Bolduc said Cook was justified in firing first because he believes there was substantial reason to fear for his life.
“He was professional and level-headed,” Bolduc said. “I don’t see any problem with the video and on a one to 10 scale, I think Rodney gets a 10. To me, there’s nothing unsafe about the way Rodney performed it. He gave the person every opportunity.”
In training, Bolduc said officers run through a plethora of scenarios using simulators and videos that force officers to make split-second decisions. He said the training teaches officers to use a firearm safely in situations that call for instantaneous decision-making. The goal of training, according to Bolduc, is to make the decision-making of an on-duty officer second nature.
He said Cook’s mental preparedness helped ensure officer safety in this situation. Still, despite the preparedness, Bolduc said he acknowledges that it’s a difficult time for trooper Cook because the incident resulted in the loss of life.
“I know it’s a tough time,” Bolduc said. “As time goes by I hope that he can honestly say ‘I did what I was supposed to do.’”
Bolduc said procedures for the patrol mean Cook will likely be placed on administrative duty until the conclusion of the investigation by the district attorney’s office. He said he believes it is unlikely the district attorney will determine there is enough evidence to charge trooper Cook. The Highway Patrol internal affairs division will also conduct its own investigation.
“It’s important to have people that love and support you through this time,” Bolduc said. “People say ‘Well, he did what he had to do,’ but it’s not that simple because now somebody’s life has been taken.”
‘He would do anything for anybody’
Eddie Fields is one of the people who will help support trooper Cook through this time. Fields is Cook’s cousin-in-law; he said he’s known Cook since he was a child, and has always viewed him as a good-natured person.
“He is one good guy,” Fields said. “He would do anything for anybody and he’s a family man.”
Fields said on multiple occasions Cook has visited his aunts and uncles while they were sick, taken his nieces and nephews hunting and delivered gifts to children in need. Others who know Cook told the News + Record of Cook’s time as a children’s softball coach, volunteering at the UNC Cancer Hospital and times when he gave senior citizens rides to work when their cars broke down.
“I know his character, and his character is to help people,” Fields said. “He would never be looking to cause anyone any trouble. He would help you.”
Jackie Johnson is a friend of Cook’s father, Rocky. He said he’s also known Cook since Cook was a child.
“He’s always been a fine young man,” Johnson said. “He’s a top-notch officer and does the things the right way.”
Johnson is a Vietnam veteran; he said those military experiences have made him a good judge of character. That’s how he says he knows Cook is a man of “good roots.”
The News + Record spoke to Johnson prior to the release of the dashcam footage by the State Highway Patrol.
“Whatever the circumstances are, I feel confident that Rodney Cook did the right thing,” Johnson said. “He’s a serious-minded person. He wouldn’t do anything in his job unless it was right. He follows a strict code.”
Fields said after watching the video, he believes Cook did exactly what he was supposed to do.
“He has a stronger character than you normally find in a man in today’s society,” Fields said.
Fields said when he first saw the video it broke his heart because he believes Cook would never take a life without reason.
“I’m sure he’s had a lot of sleepless nights,” Fields said. “It’s a sad time for him and his family.”
Fields said Cook is the type of officer who’s in the profession to help people, not hurt them. He’s not yet spoken to the Cook family because he believes they need privacy during this time.
After the News + Record posted the dashcam footage on its Facebook, commenters expressed mixed feelings, but the majority shared Fields’ support for trooper Cook.
“It’s very clear the officer's actions were justified in this situation,” Raven Teague commented on the post. “Unfortunate all around.”
“(Cook) is good Trooper,” Ryan Giguere commented. “Met him on a handful of occasions. My heart goes out to him.”
Some close to Diaz said they felt Cook handled the situation poorly. Diaz’s best friend, Tyler Paige told WTVD-11 in Raleigh, he believed Cook deserved to be fired.
“Mark wasn't aggressive and cared about others,” Paige told WTVD-11. “If they truly think it's justified then so be it. I know I'm ready to fight this in court."
The Diaz family viewed the footage before it was made public. Mark’s older brother, Moises, said he was unaware his brother was a gun owner and believed he was a non-violent person, according to a published story in the Raleigh News & Observer.
“I think he just got scared,” Moises Diaz said in the story. “If my brother did point the gun at (the trooper) with bad intentions, then at least they could have disarmed him or tried their best to like, detain him, but then again, it was in the heat of the moment.”
Bill Horner III contributed reporting.
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