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Police officer charged in death is due in court today

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr., and Steve Lyttle
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

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The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer accused of shooting an unarmed 24-year-old man early Saturday is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon.

Officer Randall Kerrick, who has been charged with manslaughter in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, is set for a 1:30 p.m. appearance in a Mecklenburg County courtroom.

Meanwhile, the mother of the man who was killed by police gunfire recalled her son as “a good man” who came to Charlotte to further his education and marry his fiancée.

“I expected my son to bury me, not for me to bury him,” Georgia Ferrell said at a Monday news conference.

Ferrell and other family members made their first public comments since he was killed around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Monday that Ferrell was shot 10 times. Kerrick, who fired his gun 12 times, was charged with voluntary manslaughter – the first officer charged in a fatal shooting in more than 30 years.

Police say Ferrell may have been seeking help after he wrecked his car in a northeast Mecklenburg neighborhood and ran toward police.

Standing with her attorney, Christopher Chestnut, Georgia Ferrell said her faith motivated her to forgive Kerrick, but “he took a piece out of my heart that can never be put back. A piece of me is gone.”

Chestnut, a Florida attorney, said the family has questions about a “shoot-first, ask-questions-later” approach by Kerrick. Chestnut said the family wants more information about the officer’s training and qualifications.

Jonathan Ferrell, a former football player at Florida A&M University, had no criminal record in North Carolina and a 2011 misdemeanor charge in Florida that was dismissed.

Chestnut said he has spoken with police and believes Ferrell wasn’t attacking police officers when he saw their flashing blue lights. “He was running to them for help. He was not threatening anyone.”

Chestnut represented Delvonte Tisdale’s family, which unsuccessfully sued the city after their son died. Investigators say he sneaked onto a US Airways plane on the tarmac of Charlotte’s airport. They believe he fell from the plane as the jet’s landing gear lowered approaching Boston.

In Jonathan Ferrell’s case, Chestnut said the family has not decided whether to sue the police department.

“We’re planning to get answers,” he said. “If that requires a lawsuit, then we will.”

Questions remain

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police moved swiftly Saturday to charge Kerrick, 27, who is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon.

Police released little new information Monday about what evidence they had in charging Kerrick. A source familiar with the investigation said a video camera from a patrol car captured some footage of Ferrell’s encounter with officers.

Before the shooting, Jonathan Ferrell had become lost in the expansive Bradfield Farms subdivision in northeast Mecklenburg County, Chestnut said.

Ferrell turned his black Toyota Camry down a road that leads to the subdivision’s tennis courts, pool and clubhouse.

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 had to kick out the back window to climb out of his mangled car. It was unclear whether he was injured, or how badly, but he walked about a quarter mile to a house just visible over the crest of a hill.

The road that leads to the pool is lit, but there are no streetlights near the house on Reedy Creek Road. The house is next to a grove of trees and a greenway that joggers and dog walkers use, and near McKee Creek.

Chief Rodney Monroe said Ferrell started “banging on the door viciously.”

Police said the woman who lives there thought Ferrell was a robber and dialed 911.

About 2:30 a.m., three Hickory Grove division officers responded to the call – Kerrick, 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 near the house, 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 that’s when Kerrick shot Ferrell, who died at the scene.

Police released an incident report Monday that shows that after the shooting, Kerrick said he had been assaulted. The report said he received minor injuries but refused medical attention. It does not indicate who assaulted him.

But many questions remain, including the positions of Ferrell and the officers, whether the officers shouted commands and a detailed timeline of events. Police also have not explained why the Taser was unsuccessful.

Police have not released the 911 recording or any video from the scene.

Advocates protest

More than 50 civil rights advocates gathered in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on Monday to protest the shooting and demand the police department improve training about how officers use force.

“It is an epidemic in this country to kill young black men,” said Kojo Nantambu, the head of the Charlotte branch of the NAACP. “It seems to always be taken to the extreme, and they are never given the benefit of the doubt.”

The advocates also used the killing to bolster an eight-month fight to get the city to give more power to a civilian board that reviews police disciplinary practices, including when officers use excessive force.

Matt Newton, a Charlotte lawyer, told the crowd that Ferrell’s shooting illustrates why city residents have lobbied for the board to have more power.

“This is about transparency,” he said. “We need to give (the board) the power to do the job it was put in place to do.”

A Charlotte Observer investigation showed earlier this year that the Citizens Review Board has looked at 79 cases without ever ruling against police. In most of those cases, the investigation showed, the board did not even conduct a hearing.

Charlotte’s City Council is investigating the structure and powers of the board.

On Monday, Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said the city will review police training procedures in the wake of Saturday’s shooting, but he added, “I’m not seeing anything that I would describe as systemic.”

Suspended in December

Records show that Kerrick, assigned to the Hickory Grove Division, was suspended once by the department for eight hours in December. The records do not list the reason for the suspension.

Kerrick, a Cabarrus County resident, graduated from the academy in October 2011.

Records show that he worked as an animal control officer before becoming a police training recruit. His first employment date is listed as March 2010.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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