Noise Complaint Leads to Police Shooting, Killing 17-Year-Old

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Last Sunday night, police in Morganton, North Carolina shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Sipes. The officers were responding to a noise complaint called in by a neighbor in the mobile home park where Sipes lived. His mother says there were three children in the home on the night Sipes was killed, and were likely he source of the complaint.

According to Sipes’ mother and others in the house, the police repeatedly knocked on the door to the home, but never identified themselves. They say both Sipes and his mother asked more than once who was outside. A neighbor who heard the gunshots also says he never heard the police identify themselves. Police officials say the officers did identify themselves.

According to those in the trailer at the time, as the knocks continued, Sipes retrieved a rifle, opened the door, and stepped outside. That’s when Morganton Public Safety Officer Johnny David Cooper II shot Sipes in the stomach “four or five times.”

More here and here. Profile of Sipes here. The story is still fresh, but at first blush he certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of kid who would knowingly confront police officers with his rifle.

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94 Responses to “Noise Complaint Leads to Police Shooting, Killing 17-Year-Old”

  1. #1 |  Hardison Collins | 

    this stuff is making me sad, so I submit to you all a one act play entitled…

    an American Tale of America

    Wife: honey, there someone at the door, will you get it?
    Husband: Hold on, let me get my rifle
    Wife: your rifle?
    Husband: yeah, it could be a monster or a witch!
    Wife: (snickering) or it could be Obama, come to take your guns again.
    Husband: (under breath) fat whore
    Wife: what?
    Husband: nothing.
    – Husband opens door-
    Husband: Oh shit! it’s the koran! the koran is trying to get in our house!
    Wife: fight it with freedom!
    Husband: I’m out of freedom!
    Wife: you just got some at that freedom concert!
    Husband: I sent it to freedomworks! now just get me some freedom!
    Wife: this aint walmart fatso! you think I just have freedom in the ‘fridge?
    Husband: well, what about the freezer! get it FREE-zer?
    Wife: the koran isn’t here, is it?
    Husband: no, just some census guy.

  2. #2 |  random guy | 

    I live just north of Winston Salem so this is right in my area. A few years ago a guy I knew named Brian died from the same kind of reckless behavior. He was on probation from substance related crimes and got pulled over for something to do with his tags, he panicked and speed off, the Winston-Salem cop noticed that he had no outstanding warrents and did NOT give chase as was procedure. They had his license and personal info it and he wasn’t an immediate threat to anyone.

    Despite this, a few sheriff deputies caught up to him and decided to give chase. They aggressively pursued him through narrow country roads for about 45 minutes, eventually fishtailing his car so that he wrecked out in the woods. The deputies then fired ‘warning shots’ into the wrecked vehicle to get Brian to come out. He pulls himself out of the wrecked vehicle (it had flipped over after swerving off the road) and begins to run into the woods away from the officers. They open fire, shooting him a total of seven times before he died. All shots were fired into his back, arms and legs. The autopsy would later reveal that he was completely free of any drugs at the time of death. He simply panicked at the prospect of going back to prison.

    He wasn’t acting rationally and he made some mistakes, but it was clear to me that the deputies exacerbated the situation, eventually to the point of murdering an unarmed man fleeing a car wreak. I know he wasn’t blameless and he had his troubles in the past but he didn’t deserve to die like that. It was this story, more than anything else in my life, that convinced me of the problems in the law enforcement community, and the necessity for healthy citizen skepticism of police action.

    My condolences to the family of Michael Sipes. Hopefully some justice will be done for his tragic and unnecessary death.

  3. #3 |  Frank Hummel | 

    I can see how t1 got so many thumbs down. I think it’s the way he put it into words. From a tactical perspective he is mostly right tho (except the calling cops part). Stay inside, if it’s cops (they should have identified themselves in the first place) you can always put your hands up and hope for the best, if it’s some thugs (but i repeat myself) you have the advantage of surprise and knowing the terrain and, being a trailer the intruders are channelled along the small width of the dwelling, as well it’s pretty hard for them to spread out laterally and a shotgun would be the weapon of choice to have.

    That being said i feel sorry for the family, seems he was a good kid. Maybe someting will good will come out of this but i really doubt it. It’s not one of those cases where cops shot an unarmed guy (the whittling guy). The kid did show up at the door with a rifle.

  4. #4 |  Chris Mallory | 

    Yeah, the kid showed up at HIS OWN door with a rifle. The cop was in the wrong here no matter how you look at it. But it will be covered up and the cop will get a few weeks paid vacation.

  5. #5 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Police Kill Seventeen Year Old; How Much Is Enough? | 

    […] Radley Balko reveals another disturbing story of America’s increasing police force gone awry: Last Sunday night, police in Morganton, North Carolina shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Sipes. […]

  6. #6 |  RWW | 

    Never, ever, EVER answer the door if the police knock on it. EVER.

    Of course, this poor boy didn’t know who was knocking, so his actions were pretty reasonable (though perhaps unwise in retrospect). And to be honest, it’s a shame he didn’t at least take one or two law enforcement officers with him.

  7. #7 |  RWW | 

    It’s pretty disgusting how dangerous it has become to carry a firearm in this country.

  8. #8 |  Marty | 

    #55- do you think the outcome would’ve been different if he’d been carrying a baseball bat or a knife?

  9. #9 |  Pai | 

    Well as we’ve learned from the recent Seattle shooting, simply -standing up- while holding a knife is enough to get you 4 bullets in the gut, so I’d assume you’d get a similar response for answering your door with one in your hand.

  10. #10 |  Les | 

    Hardison Collins,

    The main problem with your post isn’t that it contains viewpoints as childishly simple as one might find on “Fox and Friends.” The main problem is that it’s not funny.

  11. #11 |  Janet | 

    Have you ever had to deal with the police for anything a citizen may need help with . My Missing Daughter who has been gone for 3 months now and where abouts are unknown to any of us. The cops will not list her as missing, will not help locate her or do anything to help a family find their missing daughter and we have no clue where she is. You can’t get the cops to do a darn thing. Unless its to write tickets or shoot someone. They have no care in the world, but to earn brownie points in shooting up people. No integerity, no moral values or human kindness. To help anyone.

  12. #12 |  Bob | 

    #55- do you think the outcome would’ve been different if he’d been carrying a baseball bat or a knife?

    It would not. Thank police training.

    Target spins around! Dude with Baseball bat! Shoot!

    Hell, it has been demonstrated that a “furtive gesture” is enough.

    Review Panel: “So then what happened, Officer Noballs?”

    Cop: “He turned around and gave me the ‘stink eye’. I felt threatened so I unloaded my service pistol into his chest”

    Review Panel: Good shoot! 2 weeks Administrative Leave. Next!

  13. #13 |  Marty | 

    I wish there was an instruction manual for how to deal with the police… with so many bullshit laws and checkpoints, we’re going to come into contact. we have the constitution, but that’s largely ignored. all I really get from these articles is ‘COMPLY WITH MY ORDERS, CITIZEN!’

    fuckers. there was more outrage over dogs being shot- but this could’ve been any of our kids. reflexively, anyone will grab whatever’s handy to use for protection. being in a little singlewide trailer, the .22 was handy. I could see one of my girls grabbing a golf club to ‘investigate’. fuckers. this kid wasn’t cowering in fear- he was trying to do the right thing. this could’ve been any of our kids.

    he was deprived of life, liberty, and his pursuit of happiness.

    if they’re so willing to kill him, can there be any doubt that they would’ve deprived him of other rights if he wasn’t armed and prepared to protect his family? it’s easy to trump up ‘probable cause’ and stomp all over the 4th amendment. while outrageous, this would not even be news.

    imagine all the circumstances where we’ve complied with bullshit orders or witnessed other comply with bullshit intrusions. now, imagine some of those situations if there wasn’t immediate compliance- how many can you see escalating to tasing or shooting? scary stuff. imagine our kids dealing with this…

  14. #14 |  aw2pp | 

    Radley, any update on the police shooting at the Vegas Costco?

  15. #15 |  croaker | 

    @61 Lots of sturm und drang from both sides, including Vegas cops harassing the dead guy’s ex wife who was no where near involved in anything.

    I wonder if the cops are going to close off the coroner’s hearing to reporters again?

  16. #16 |  johnl | 

    Article in MAA on the California Supreme Court’s decision that DNA match rarity statistics should *not* be corrected for the size of the database matched in cold case. This is a question that had been studied by a blue ribbon panel but the courts are not allowing their correction into evidence.

  17. #17 |  Black 27 | 

    The only way to deal with police is with armor-piercing ammunition and IEDs.

  18. #18 |  Hardison Collins | 

    – sorry I got off message! sheesh- I was hoping to buoy my own spirits and add some levity to a pretty black situation-
    The point I was trying to make (maybe a little bit too obliquely) was that we have a cultural problem. Not a “us or them” problem, not a “good guy, bad guy” scenario, but a society-wide problem with power, authority, self-control and (I think) male behavior. The actions of police/ authority figures etc. are reflections of our overall society. I feel like we are going to have to get past the impotent anger and chest-beating and starting looking at what kind of culture creates this incredible lack of respect for humanity.

  19. #19 |  JS | 

    Black 27 “The only way to deal with police is with armor-piercing ammunition and IEDs.”

    I don’t think murdering cops is the cure for our problems. If you’re talking about a revolution to overthrow the government or something (and that is what it would take) then I’m sure you can make a case for that more than a case for just murdering cops. But your post is interesting because it expresses the kind of boiling over frustration with a system which leaves those oppressed by the police absolutely no option. Like Mrs. C, whose son was murdered by the police, what politician would dare to help her when it would mean being called soft on crime or anti-police? Like you, I don’t see any possible peaceful and lawful way to fix a corrupt and broken system but I also don’t see anything but futility and failure for any other way.

  20. #20 |  Bob | 


    The ‘cultural’ that is causing this is that of freedom. Freedom is a messy business, one that requires tolerance and a focus on protection of individual rights rather than promoting an ambiguous ‘moral’ code.

    It is no surprise, then, that balkanized groups form that develop their own culture, convinced among themselves that THEIR way is the right way.

    You want a safe society? Totalitarianism is the way to go. So long as you toe the line in a totalitarian society, only a small percentage of you will be culled by the state. Until you get a nutbag as a leader, of course… then you can expect the death toll to reach a large percentage of the population.

    In a free society, people have guns and other weapons. Those weapons are sometimes stolen and used for crime, but this is a price of freedom. In a free society, prohibition is not worth the cost of enforcement. So, perhaps we’re not there yet.

    Back to the balkanized groups in a free society. Many of them are religious, and believe their ‘morals’ are what’s best for everybody. One of those ‘morals’ is the staunch belief in punishment for crimes committed. it says so in the bible, so it must be the ‘most moral’ position.

    ‘Freedom’ (And the first amendment) means these groups are not subject to laws preventing (or enforcing) their existence. Likewise, that same freedom enables the groups for whom those group’s ‘morals’ show as defects that need to be corrected to exist.

    Here’s a conundrum. What’s the least free group in America? The Amish. The Amish are pacifists, but exist in a virtual totalitarian state where every action is dictated by their group’s rules, expressed in a document maintained by the group’s Bishop called the “Ordnung”. It’s like having an HOA that you can’t move away from that mercilessly dictates every aspect of your life.

    What’s the solution for a society to be free AND as safe as possible? I think two rules:

    1) Every aspect of government must have counter-aspects that operates as checks and balances. These aspects must have, as part of their charter, the defined methods of those counter-aspects. (akin to falsifiability of scientific theorems)

    2) All aspects of government must be transparent.

  21. #21 |  Chris | 


    The difference between Amish totalitarianism and that of some “other” leader is that the Amish choose their fate. Certainly they are raised to accept those roles as best, but destiny is not absolute, and they can choose to leave that way of life.

    I can’t choose to not be shot by the cops for making what one of those psychopaths see as a “furtive” move, even if all I was doing was scratching my ass.

  22. #22 |  KristenS | 

    what politician would dare to help her when it would mean being called soft on crime or anti-police

    You have pinpointed an ENORMOUS problem. The people that could potentially rein in this kind of abuse are held by their nutsacks/left tits by the cop machine.

  23. #23 |  JS | 

    Yea Kristen I think it would take someone brave enough to commit political suicide for the good of the country. Unfortunately nobody seems to be that sacrificial. ANY attempt to reign in our out of control police would provoke an enormous backlash from the law and order conservatives who worship anyone in a government issued uniform.

  24. #24 |  JS | 

    Another thought: politicians could reign possibly them in but only at the cost of their careers but the police themselves could certainly reign them in. Unfortunately there seems to be a really frightening cult like mentality in police culture today. No longer are they Americans, they are a special breed of heros and all that crap. They have developed a contempt for Americans who don’t wear a government issued uniform and piece of costume jewelry called a badge. This is why I have so much respect for LEAP, and for oath keepers. I don’t know if they’ll accomplish anything but it takes more guts than most cops have to do the right thing and stand on the side of the people instead of the government.

  25. #25 |  RWW | 

    The only way to deal with police is with armor-piercing ammunition and IEDs.

    I like your attitude.

  26. #26 |  Mattocracy | 

    I need me a new agitator fix. What’s going on here?

  27. #27 |  Stephen | 

    “I need me a new agitator fix. What’s going on here?”

    Yeah, I don’t remember giving Radley permission to take a break… :)

    I hope he’s not in jail…

  28. #28 |  Frank Hummel | 

    I bet he’s over in Indiana for the long weekend. Expect some photos of ol’ barns on Tuesday.

  29. #29 |  Toastrider | 

    It’s the point I made to a friend the other day.

    If there is no official accountability, then eventually you /will/ have ‘unofficial’ accountability.

    I understand cops are human. That mistakes happen. That you do get bad cops and good cops. But there is no wisdom in covering up for the bad cops, in sweeping the mistakes under the rug.

    It’s not going to end well. If they thought the DC snipers were a problem, imagine an overly motivated fellow out to punish cops for their sins — and how much support might the cops get from the community they victimize?

  30. #30 |  The Mossy Spaniard | 

    Toastrider –
    I agree with that assessment. I really hope such a vigilante scenario doesn’t happen, but I will concede that the criminal justice system skirts the wrongdoings of some people, and a lot of those people are police.

  31. #31 |  TC | 

    All cops need to be trained in Alaska!!!!

    Either they will become a much better cop, or the population of AK will be reduced drastically! Oh another thought, Many fewer Barney’s will enter the general cop work force!

    Everybody is packin in AK!

  32. #32 |  Grenadier1 | 

    Our police have become Robot Santa.

  33. #33 |  Andrew S. | 

    #78 | Grenadier1 | September 7th, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Our police have become Robot Santa.

    Now that’s an outstanding analogy.

    Though even Robot Santa eventually reformed and worked with everyone when the Scammers took over Earth. Police Robot Santa would’ve at least “accidentally” shot Nibbler.

  34. #34 |  Stephen | 

    I think they have become more like Invader Zim Santa.

  35. #35 |  Gary | 

    So the police have no duty to announce who they are? We all know that they have no duty to protect. It appears that the only duty they have is to shoot first and ask questions later.

  36. #36 |  Maria | 

    The message I’m getting from this case, one that’s coming through louder and clearer as times goes on, is that when someone demands entry to our home we the people are to fling ourselves to the ground with our hands behind our backs, ready to be hog-tied/cuffed. And it doesn’t matter who comes knocking.

    Either that or flee in terror into the hills bobbing and weaving the whole way looking back as our villages burn. Maybe life’s not so damned different from when there where war lords and raiding parties.

  37. #37 |  Alice | 

    Memorial contributions may be made to Sossoman Funeral Home P.O. Box 2608, Morganton, N.C. 28680 to help with the funeral expenses.
    Condolences may be made online at

    I’m sure this guy’s family is really struggling to pay for funeral expenses right now. It won’t bring him back, but it could make it a little easier for his family.

  38. #38 |  Alice | 

    Sorry to leave to comments in a row, but I just spoke to one of the funeral home’s managers and she said you CAN donate over the phone. She told me there’s a little less than $5,000 in unpaid expenses left to go. Call (828) 437-3211 and say you want to donate toward Michael Sipes’ Funeral expenses.

  39. #39 |  Racist Crowd boos L.A. police chief | 

    […] to do, either. Story of police shooting unarmed man Story where cops kill an old lady by mistake Police kill a 17 year old by mistake The cops in question did not have non-lethal alternatives at hand to deal with the emergent […]

  40. #40 |  The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » Jack Conway’s Unfair Attack on Rand Paul | 

    […] at the Agitator, Radley Balko reports on the murder of Michael Sipes, seventeen, by police after responding to a noise complaint. As the drug war continues to escalate in […]

  41. #41 |  Obama’s License to Kill | Gonzo Times | 

    […] get used to civil liberties being stomped upon. The United States seems like a police state, with fatal encounters increasing beyond anything I knew growing up. As my conservative friend Larry Bernard said, when a […]

  42. #42 |  A Street Execution of a Nuu-Chah-Nulth Man | Lingit Latseen | 

    […] Noise Complaint Leads to Police Shooting, Killing 17-Year-Old Police shoot and kill a 92 year old woman in her home based on faulty evidence In post-Katrina New Orleans, the most violent killers on the streets were the police A distraught man, grieving for the death of his brother, is shot after surrendering to the Portland police […]

  43. #43 |  pb | 

    fuck you t1 did you actshally know michael??? were you friends with him and grow up with him??? he was a good guy with a hard life who lived in a lil shithole town and what kind of fuckin person are you to call a dead 17 year old stupid. so fuck you and mike rest in peace bro we love ya and miss ya

  44. #44 |  randy morgan | 

    brad morgan was killed by police portland organ 1/25/12 atop a garage do cops have a license to kill and then leave them to die after brad was left hours hours to die ihave more to say but every thing seems to get lost or fillterd not afobia its real and its not proper i pay to communicate and to get real answers not fillterd and or shut down hard to stsrt pc back up i need sume back up ,answers would really help. 220 peole have been killed by cops sence 1970 inportland allone add that up per larg city per state 50 times 220 numbers hurt people and families friends what happens when acop kills acops child thy shoot and ask names later braads dad also brad had access to a25 simi automtic kept in our gun safe