Wilmington officer involved in shooting of unarmed teen no longer with Police Department

Esteban Parra Brittany Horn
Delaware News Journal

A Wilmington officer who was dishonest about changing the barrel of the department-issued gun he used to shoot an unarmed 18-year-old man last year is no longer with the department. 

James MacColl's dishonesty, which came to light only because a tipster reported it to the state Department of Justice, forced prosecutors to drop carjacking and weapons charges against Yahim Harris. 

Wilmington police confirmed MacColl's job status with Delaware Online/The News Journal, but would not say if he was fired or if he left on his own. 

"We are not able to comment further due to the provisions of the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, as codified in the Delaware State Code," said David Karas, a police spokesman.

Video provided to The News Journal shows the shooting and arrest of Yahim Harris in February 2019.  Prosecutors dropped carjacking and weapons charges against Harris, saying the Wilmington police officer who opened fire was dishonest about whether he changed the barrel of his gun.  3/4/20

Last week, Karas said MacColl was still with the department. But when asked on Thursday when MacColl's last day was, the spokesman said "it is now effective as of April 21."

EXCLUSIVE: Teen shot by Wilmington officer should have been released months ago

That is the day MacColl faced an internal trial board for dishonesty that ultimately recommended he be fired, according to sources within the Wilmington Police Department. The sources' names are being withheld because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

19-year-old Yahim Harris gets ready to leave Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, where he was released on Wednesday, March 4. The Wilmington teenager was accused of carjacking and then shot by the police during his arrest.

MacColl had an appeal hearing this week, according to sources. 

The 14-year member of the Wilmington force has been written up at least twice internally for dishonesty since shooting Harris on Feb. 2, 2019, according to the sources.

The first dishonesty charge, which was filed late last year, had to do with the shooting involving Harris. The second charge had to do with forging information documents for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. 

Sources told The News Journal that MacColl faced the internal review board only on the second charge of forging documents. 

Because he is no longer with the Wilmington Police Department, that agency will no longer bring him up on the other dishonesty charge – that he changed the gun barrel of his department-issued weapon, which is against department rules.

MacColl admitted in January to doing this during the Wilmington Police Department's internal investigation of the Harris shooting. He told investigating officers he altered his weapon to "improve his firing accuracy," according to court documents made public in March.

Yet, Wilmington police did not voluntarily share this information with the Justice Department – an unnamed source did.

This silence emboldens bad officers to continue with their bad behavior, said Terence Jones the newly appointed Criminal Justice Committee Chair for the Delaware NAACP State Conference.

"The Wilmington Police Department is a very, very corrupt police department that stands behind their officers no matter what crimes they commit. No matter what misconducts they may have," Jones said. "That's part of the reason why people are fed up and why they're marching and protesting: because they are protecting this officer by any means necessary." 

BACKGROUND: Accusations of legal missteps also clouded Yahim Harris case

The state Department of Justice, which moved to drop charges against Harris in March, said in a court filing that month it had a "Constitutional obligation to disclose exculpatory and impeachable statements" to the court and added that "those duties trump the statutory confidentiality rights of internal investigations" – a reference to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which would otherwise protect MacColl's statements.

The suspicion that MacColl had altered his weapon grew after the Justice Department released its use of force report in November and noted that bullets recovered at the scene did not match MacColl's weapon on file or that of another gun found there. 

The News Journal asked Wilmington police about MacColl altering his service weapon shortly after the report's release, but the department didn't say much. 

"We have received the report from the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust regarding the armed carjacking incident and officer-involved shooting, and we stand by their findings," Karas said on Nov. 7. 

MacColl told investigators Harris got out of the stolen car and began running. MacColl shot Harris when he saw the teen turn and extend his arm toward him. Harris was struck on the left side of his torso, according to the report. 

The Justice Department, which cleared MacColl in the Harris shooting last year, is now investigating the former officer's conduct and weighing whether to file criminal charges.

This is the second shooting in which MacColl has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Department of Justice. 

MacColl was one of four officers involved in the Sept. 23, 2015, shooting of Jeremy "Bam" McDole – a 28-year-old who was in his wheelchair when he was fatally shot.

MCDOLE BACKGROUND: Wilmington to pay $1.5 million to settle McDole lawsuit 

Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer-turned-civil rights investigator, is pushing to have MacColl charged and convicted in the shooting of Harris. Jones investigated wrongdoing by the Wilmington police in the shooting. 

Terence Jones speaks in support of Yahim Harris, an unarmed man who was shot by Wilmington Police earlier this year, at a protest on Friday, Dec. 20.

The investigator said the Police Department needs to be more transparent about what happened in the Jones shooting if it wants the public's trust.

"The public demands to know what happened to James MacColl, and the Wilmington Police Department is not listening," he said. "They could care less. The Wilmington Police Department would rather bleed blue than do the right thing."

Contact reporter Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, eparra@delawareonline.com or Twitter @eparra3. Contact investigative reporter Brittany Horn at (302) 324-2771 or bhorn@delawareonline.com.