Self Defense Ruled In ECU Student's Death

The New Hanover County district attorney says there will be no charges brought in the death of an ECU student over the weekend.

Sam Flinn, an East Carolina sophomore, was found dead early Sunday in Wilmington while visiting friends.

Police say he died as a result of a ruptured blood vessel near the brain. Authorities say a fight preceded the discovery of Flinn's body.

Today D.A. Benjamin David says it was a case of self defense.

According to police, a friend of Flinn, Doug Reece, instigated a fight among four other men. Police say Reece threw the first punch. They go on to say Flinn came to Reece's defense and was struck by one blow to the chin, falling down.

The D.A. says the autopsy and police investigation determined Flinn was under the influence of xanax, alcohol and marijuana. Police say Reece was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.

David says the man who punched Flinn used reasonable force to protect himself.


Wilmington Police Department Investigation Summary

Two brothers, Jaron Collins and Jeffrey Collins are residents of Carleton Apartments. They, along with Shawn Boone, their brother, and their cousin, Mark Jones, were all in the apartment area on September 23, 2007. Doug Reece was also a resident of the Carleton Apartments and had with him a visitor, Samuel Flinn, a student at East Carolina University.

When Doug Reece, in the early morning hours of September 23rd, accompanied by Samuel Flinn, approached Jaron Collins, a 17 year old UNCW student and his brother, Jeffery, a senior, and offered them the opportunity to smoke marijuana and drink at an adjacent apartment, it set off a chain of events that led to the death of Mr. Flinn. Jaron Collins and his brother, Jeffrey, declined the offer because they did not condone marijuana use. Doug Reece then discussed their purchasing tickets to an upcoming rap concert that he had a part in promoting. The brothers again declined, as they had objections to the nature of the act by the rap artist that included kissing a man on stage. Doug Reece then accused Jeffrey Collins of being a “fag” and approached him in a threatening manner. Doug Reece then threw a punch that missed. Jeffrey Collins then struck Doug Reece with a glancing blow in defense of himself. Shawn Boone attempted to restrain Doug Reece to calm the situation.

Samuel Flinn, who had, according to Doug Reece’s statements, been drinking and smoking marijuana that day and evening, then voluntarily entered the affray and Jaron attempted to restrain Sam, who tried to strike Jaron. Jeffrey pushed Jaron aside and told Jaron that he needed to leave the scene. In the meantime, Doug Reece was restrained some distance away. Samuel Flinn then threw a punch at Jeffrey. Jeffrey responded with a blow to the chin of Samuel. There are various accounts of the number of punches thrown during this mutual fight. What is clear is that Samuel fell to the ground, and Jeffrey went to the aid of Shawn. There is nothing to suggest that Jeffrey, or anyone else, continued to assault Mr. Flinn while he was on the ground. Doug ran back to his apartment after being released by Shawn Boone. The brothers and their cousin left the scene with no idea that Mr. Flinn was seriously injured until they were later informed of his death by Detectives of the Wilmington Police Department.

The statement of Doug Reece indicates that Mr. Flinn had ingested Xanax pills earlier in the weekend, had attended a party at which jello shots, beer and drinks were served and then came back to Doug Reece’s apartment where he drank beer, reportedly took some Xanax, and smoked marijuana. Mr. Flinn had a history of multiple underage alcohol violations and charges of resisting a public officer. Mr. Reece, who is also 19 years of age, admitted to drinking 7 to 8 beers that evening. His statement also admits to having hosted a party with 14 or 15 people at his nearby apartment where alcohol was served and marijuana used.

The accounts of witnesses indicate that Mr. Flinn still had a pulse for some time after the affray, but he was pronounced dead by the EMS personnel who later arrived on the scene. There is no evidence that Mr. Flinn was attacked by anyone after he fell to the ground as a result of the blow to his chin. A witness, who was attempting to help Mr. Flinn while he was lying on the ground before EMS arrived, has indicated to detectives that someone bumped his head with an elbow and was heard to say, “Get everything out of his (Mr. Flinn’s) pockets”. The coroner has found the cause of death to be a brain hemorrhage that is typical of one suffered by someone who is intoxicated and receives a blow to the chin.

Jaron Collins, Jeffrey Collins, Shawn Boone, and their cousin, Mark Jones, who was only a witness to what occurred, all reported to the Wilmington Police Department when asked and gave full and voluntary statements to the detectives assigned to the case. Doug Reece and other witnesses were also interviewed, and all of the statements are consistent with a finding that Jeffrey Collins struck Samuel Flinn in self defense. While the death of Samuel Flinn is both sad and unfortunate, it was not the result of any criminal act by Jeffrey Collins or any other person. The affray was initiated by Doug Reece and joined in by Mr. Flinn. Therefore, no charges will be filed against any person arising out of the death of Samuel Flinn on September 23, 2007. Both the investigating Detectives of the Wilmington Police Department and members of the District Attorney’s Office, concur in this decision. Only the toxicology results from the autopsy of Mr. Flinn remain open in the investigation and will be released when those test results are received.
Statement From Wilmington Police Chief

Ralph M. Evangelous, Chief of Police
Wilmington Police Department
Prepared statement

September 26, 2007 – 2:00 p.m.

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here today.

Here with me today are two representatives from our Criminal Investigations Division: Lt. James Varrone, and Detective Mike Overton, who has been the principal investigator on this case.

I have a brief statement on behalf of the Wilmington Police Department.

Our detectives have conducted many hours of interviews since Sunday morning. Our witnesses have made themselves readily available for interviews, and all have been cooperative throughout the process.

Most importantly, everyone directly involved in the events of Sunday morning, September 23rd agrees with the basic details of what happened. In your media kit, you will have a detailed account of the investigative findings, so I will not address those facts here.

You are our principal means of communicating with the public. This tragic case has generated rumors, and it’s important that everyone have accurate information. We appreciate all you do to report the facts.

From the very beginning of this case, the Wilmington Police Department has worked closely with the District Attorney and his staff. At this point, I’ll turn the podium over to him.


Statement From District Attorney

To: Members of the Media
Re: Death of Sam Flinn

Thanks to the excellent work of the Wilmington Police Department, we now have a clear understanding of what happened in the early morning hours of September 23, 2007. Now I want to speak to you about what those facts mean in legal terms. Everyone closely involved in the investigation, from the police to the prosecutors, is united in concluding that no one should be criminally charged in this tragic incident.

This case serves as another example of the close working relationship between WPD and the District Attorney’s Office, and our joint commitment to embrace a police/prosecutor team approach to seek justice in homicide cases. WPD first notified me at 3:30 am and I personally responded to the police station early Sunday morning, and have remained actively involved in the investigation since that time. Senior Assistant DAs from my office have worked closely with the detectives over the past few days to ensure that all leads were exhausted and the truth of what occurred is known. Also, we have carefully researched the controlling criminal law of North Carolina that applies to this situation. As in all cases, we have followed a process of applying the facts to the law, and have come to a decision that is warranted under the circumstances.

The facts are clear that the victim’s friend, Doug Reece, initiated the conflict with Jeffery Collins that ultimately led to Sam Flinn’s participation in the fight. At some point during the confrontation, Mr. Collins struck Mr. Flinn, causing an injury that proved to be fatal. A person who deliberately brings on a fight by word or action has committed the criminal offense of an affray. A review of the facts discloses that Mr. Reece unlawfully assaulted Mr. Collins. Mr. Flinn attempted to intervene in an effort to assist Mr. Reece, who was the wrongdoer in this confrontation. In this circumstance, the law authorizes Mr. Collins to act in self defense against both Mr. Reece and Mr. Flinn, as he was not the initial aggressor.

In the exercise of self defense, a person cannot use more force then is reasonably necessary to repel an attack. Mr. Collins was confronted with a non-deadly threat and responded appropriately with matching force, i.e., the use of his fists as opposed to any type of deadly weapon. The Medical Examiner concluded that the injuries to Mr. Flinn’s body are entirely consistent with those suffered during an unremarkable fist fight. The medical authorities also found the cause of death to be a brain hemorrhage that is typical of one suffered by someone who is intoxicated and receives a blow to the chin.

The physical evidence from the autopsy is corroborated by the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses. Although the injuries to Mr. Flinn proved to be fatal, the amount of force that Mr. Collins employed was a measured response to the unlawful actions of Mr. Reece and Mr. Flinn. Further, the law does not impose a duty to retreat in this circumstance. Jeffery Collins was justified in the use of self defense and he used a reasonable amount of force to repel an unlawful attack. The fact that the consequences were both severe and unintended does not elevate a tragedy to a crime.

Earlier today, we spoke with the family of Mr. Flinn and informed them of our decision not to prosecute anyone in connection with the death of their son. We expressed our deep sympathy for their loss, but explained to them that we will not compound this tragedy by pursuing criminal charges that are neither supported by the law nor the facts. The parents agreed that no criminal charges should be filed and expressed the hope that something positive could be learned from their son’s death. They asked for privacy and that they not be contacted by the press in their time of grief.

During the course of this investigation, witnesses admitted to illegal activity, including underage drinking, illegal drug use, and an affray. In this regard, I decline to take any criminal action for two reasons: First, there is no nexus between the crimes which occurred and the death of Mr. Flinn sufficient to charge anyone with an offense of criminal homicide. Second, I do not believe that it is in the public’s interest to charge anyone with the other listed offenses. In conducting the interviews of witnesses, the police needed the cooperation and honesty of many people who admitted to their own unlawful behavior. It would have a chilling effect on future cases if we were to arrest witnesses for these misdemeanor offenses in the context of a homicide investigation. Also, in this particular case, many of those involved are probably suffering under their own form of self-imposed punishment.

This case serves as another tragic reminder of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, particularly in the hands of the very young. I have shared our findings with Chancellor Rosemary Depaolo of The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I remain committed to working with UNCW and local law enforcement to address the problems associated with off-campus parties.

Benjamin R. David
District Attorney