The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged in the shooting death of an unarmed 24-year-old man early Saturday will be represented by his attorney Tuesday afternoon during an opening hearing in the case.
Randall Kerrick, 27, accused of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, will have the services of an attorney appointed by the Fraternal Order of Police, according to several reports.
The initial hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
Meanwhile, consultants across the country expressed differing opinions Tuesday on whether the number of shots fired by Kerrick – 12, with 10 of them striking Ferrell, according to a police report – was unusually high.
“We’ve had shootings here where we’ve had hundreds of rounds fired,” said Mike Bumcrot, a Los Angeles-based consultant for the Police Policy Studies Council.
But Geoffrey Alpert, who studies police shootings as a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, said, “It’s a lot. Why would you need to shoot that many times?”
Kerrick, 27, is the first CMPD 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.
Christopher Chestnut, a Florida attorney representing Ferrell’s family, said family members have 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.
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.”
Bumcrot, a retired homicide detective who teaches how to investigate officer-involved shootings, said he wasn’t surprised by the 12 shots CMPD says Kerrick fired.
He said that legally, the number of bullets fired shouldn’t make a difference: The standard for determining legality is whether an officer legitimately feared for their life or someone else’s, not how many times they shot.
Bumcrot said studies have shown there is often a lag time between officers’ reflexes and reactions. Fractions of a second can elapse between when an officer sees that a suspect is down and when their brain tells their finger to stop pulling the trigger.
“It takes another half second for your brain to tell your finger you can stop firing now,” said Bumcrot.
Bumcrot said his coworkers and his coworkers have been discussing Ferrell’s shooting, and were still surprised at the speed with which charges were brought.
“This was a major topic of conversation,” he said. “We were all scratching our heads.”
“In all my hundreds of officer-involved shootings I’ve handled, this is a first for me,” said Bumcrot. He said the full autopsy report and toxicology screening of Ferrell - to see whether he was on any drugs - could be crucial in the case. Those reports are expected in four to six weeks.
While Alpert, the USC professor, questioned the number of shots fired by Kerrick, he cautioned that any judgment of whether Kerrick’s actions were warranted goes back to what he perceived the threat to be.
“Training and customary practice, you shoot until the threat is removed,” said Alpert. “The question is what was the threat?”
He also said that since police officers switched from carrying revolvers to semi-automatic pistols, the number of bullets fired in officer-involved incidents has risen.
“Now with semi-automatics, you do see enormous numbers of rounds fired,” he said.
Georgia Ferrell, Jonathan’s mother, appeared at a news conference Monday in Charlotte and 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.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police moved swiftly Saturday to charge Kerrick.
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.
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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