Charlotte-Mecklenburg police took the rare step of charging one of their own with voluntary manslaughter after homicide investigators first detailed the case to top commanders “so there would be no ambiguity,” the city manager said Sunday.
The department moved swiftly, charging Officer Randall Kerrick 19 hours after the Saturday incident. It was the first time in decades an officer had been charged with killing someone in the line of duty.
Kerrick is accused of unlawfully shooting Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former Florida A&M football player who may have been seeking help after a car wreck. He was unarmed when he ran toward officers in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood in northeast Mecklenburg County.
Meanwhile, the NAACP plans a news conference early Monday afternoon, and the attorney representing Ferrell’s family says he will be in Charlotte on Monday. The attorney, Christopher Chestnut, appeared Monday morning with Ferrell’s mother Georgia on CNN and questioned Charlotte-Mecklenburg police training methods and the response of a woman who lives in the house where Ferrell sought help early Saturday.
The speed of the decision to charge Kerrick stands in sharp contrast to prior officer-involved shooting investigations in recent years, which have taken weeks or months to resolve. Two experts in police use of force told the Observer they’d never seen a police officer charged so soon after a shooting.
City Manager Ron Carlee told the Observer he would not discuss specifics of the case, including what evidence police have. Carlee said he was among top officers in a Saturday meeting when Monroe had detectives explain their decision before announcing the charge to the public.
Ultimately the department decided Kerrick “did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon,” according to a police statement.
NAACP to weigh in
The department faces criticism for the shooting, and the NAACP is poised to take action Monday.
Ferrell’s family is planning a Monday press conference. Chestnut, their attorney, specializes in wrongful death lawsuits.
The news agency Reuters quoted Chestnut as saying he wonders if race played a role in the shooting.
“If Mr. Ferrell was not black or brown, wouldn’t they have asked him a few questions before showering him with bullets?” Chestnut told Reuters.
In an appearance on CNN on Monday morning, Ferrell’s mother Georgia said there is no explanation for why police shot her son.
“Jonathan was very happy,” she said. “We talked every morning. He called me (Saturday) before he went to his second job. He was very happy.”
Ferrell’s brother Willie told CNN, “He was always happy. It was hard to get him upset.”
Chestnut told CNN he “applauds the arrest” and charges filed against Kerrick but says “there are many other unanswered questions.”
“Why did this officer have a badge and gun?” he asked, adding that CMPD training procedures might need to be reviewed.
And, referring to the woman who answered the door where Ferrell knocked after his car wreck, Chestnut said, “Why did the woman assume it was a robber?”
Chestnut also represents the family of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University drum major who died in a 2011 hazing incident. A dozen former members of the university’s band have been charged with manslaughter in the case.
The Charlotte chapter of the NAACP is planning a press conference Monday about their efforts to investigate whether officers need better training regarding the use of deadly force, said Matt Newton, one of the organizers.
Ferrell was the sixth person shot by a CMPD officer since 2012.
“We see the same narrative time and time again,” Newton said. “Police officers respond to the scene, and the use of force quickly escalates from a Taser to a shooting. … The difference here is that it was a model citizen and so there’s no excuse.”
Kerrick, who was released Saturday after posting $50,000 bail, is scheduled to make his first appearance before a Mecklenburg judge on the manslaughter charge on Tuesday afternoon, according to the district attorney’s office..
Stranded after wreck
Ferrell moved to Charlotte in February after a stint at FAMU where he played safety on the school’s football team. He worked two jobs, one at Best Buy and another at Dillard’s department store.
Police said he drove a black Toyota Camry down a street that leads to the community’s pool, clubhouse and tennis courts. But the car crashed into an embankment about 2 a.m., police said. Investigators said they found no indication of alcohol use, but are waiting for toxicology tests.
Ferrell apparently climbed out of the back window of his mangled car, police said. It was unclear whether he was injured, but he walked to a house just visible over the crest of a hill, about a quarter-mile away.
He started “banging on the door viciously,” according to Monroe.
The woman who lives there at first thought the man knocking on the door was her husband, coming home late from work. But police said when she saw Ferrell, she thought he was a robber. She dialed 911, asking for officers to come to her home in the 7500 block of Reedy Creek Road.
About 2:30 a.m., three Hickory Grove division officers responded to the call – Kerrick, 27, who’s been an officer since April 2011; Thornell Little, who joined the department in April 1998; and Adam Neal, who’s been an officer since May 2008.
They encountered Ferrell a short distance from the home, police said.
As the officers got out of their car, “Mr. Ferrell immediately ran toward the officers,” according to a police statement. It said Ferrell moved toward Kerrick.
Little fired his Taser, but police said it was unsuccessful.
Police said Kerrick fired “several” rounds, striking Ferrell “multiple times.” He died at the scene.
Ferrell had no criminal record in North Carolina and a 2011 misdemeanor charge in Florida that was dismissed.
A man who answered the door Monday morning at the Reedy Creek Road house where Ferrell knocked on the door did not want to discuss events surrounding the shooting. He said a number of vehicles drove by the house over the weekend and said people pointed at the residence.
Two security company vans were parked nearby.
North Carolina law allows police officers to use deadly force if they fear for their lives or someone else’s.
Officers are trained to use the appropriate amount of force – anything from a simple police presence to firing a bullet.
How the department handles discipline – especially when it comes to using force – has faced scrutiny in the last year.
In particular, the city is trying to determine whether it should make reforms to its Citizens Review Board.
People who feel they’ve been victims of police misconduct can appeal to the review board if they are not satisfied with the results of a CMPD investigation into their complaints. But residents who appeal to the review board must meet an unusually high standard of proof before it will hold hearings on their allegations, an Observer investigation in February showed.
Carlee, the city manager, told the Observer he thinks the department’s training and disciplinary regulations are adequate.
“I can’t say that I see any deficiencies there,” he said. “I’ve not seen any patterns to suggest anything systemic. I have absolute confidence in the department’s own monitoring.”
Quick charges are rare
Two experts who study police use of force told the Observer on Sunday that they had never seen a police officer charged so swiftly in a shooting.
“That’s unheard of,” said Mike Bumcrot, a California-based consultant with the Police Policy Studies Council. He’s also a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective. “I was pretty dumbfounded.”
Bumcrot said internal affairs and homicide investigations into police shootings typically take weeks.
“I’ve never seen it happen that fast,” said Bumcrot. “The only thing I can figure is the officer must have made some statement ... that really put him in a bind.”
Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor of criminology, said it’s “very rare” for a police officer to be charged with a criminal offense for using a weapon in the line of duty. Internal discipline, up to being fired, is much more common.
“I’ve never seen a criminal charge that quickly,” said Alpert. “Normally it takes a lot longer to figure out what happened.”
Alpert said that the quick charging time could be completely reasonable, based on what investigators found.
“There’s no standard time,” he said.
He said a criminal charge is “reserved for really extreme cases.”
Alpert said the determination of whether force is justified typically depends on whether the officer feared for his or her life.
“Was it objectively reasonable?” said Alpert. “It depends on what the officer knew at the time.”
Researcher Maria David contributed.
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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