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Jonathan Ferrell’s family files suit in shooting death

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/14/16/39/1txj6L.Em.138.jpeg|209
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Georgia Ferrell, shooting victim Jonathan Ferrell’s mother, listens as attorney Chris Chestnut details the family’s suit Tuesday. Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10 times by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/14/16/39/a2h4f.Em.138.jpeg|500
    JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Jonathan Ferrell’s mother, Georgia Ferrell, and his brother, Willie, attend a news conference Tuesday to announce their lawsuit over the Sept. 14 death of Jonathan Ferrell.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/14/18/21/gRVUL.Em.138.jpeg|207
    JOHN D. SIMMONS - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Jonathan Ferrell’s mother, Georgia Ferrell and his brother, Willie, standing, attend a press conference Tuesday along with attorneys Charles G. Monnett, left, and Chris Chestnut.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/14/18/21/3WgEi.Em.138.jpeg|215
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Jonathan Ferrell’s mother, Georgia Ferrell and his brother, Willie, standing, attend a press conference Tuesday along with attorneys Charles G. Monnett, left, and Chris Chestnut.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/14/16/39/1bFgm9.Em.138.jpeg|422
    John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
    Georgia Ferrell holds a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal during the press conference.

Attorneys for the family of an unarmed Charlotte man fatally shot by a police officer last year say they want their lawsuit to cast light on the city’s use of lethal force and “to root out cowards who use a badge.”

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Mecklenburg Superior Court, stems from the Sept. 14 death of Jonathan Ferrell. The former Florida A&M football player, who lived in Charlotte for about a year, was shot 10 times by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick.

Kerrick was charged the next day with voluntary manslaughter. His case goes before a grand jury next Tuesday. He has been suspended without pay since his arrest.

The civil complaint by the Ferrell family names Kerrick, CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe, the police department, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

All are complicit, Florida attorney Chris Chestnut said, in what he described as Ferrell’s “gruesome” death.

Appearing at a news conference Tuesday in Charlotte, the family’s attorneys also said Ferrell’s death is part of a pattern of questionable police shootings in Charlotte that stretches back almost 20 years. They said they hoped to bring public attention to how the city hires, trains and disciplines police.

“Something has to change,” said Charlotte attorney Charles Monnett. “This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum. What level of police activity are we to tolerate in this community until somebody stands up?”

Chestnut described the complaint as “an effort to get answers ... to take a closer look at who we give a badge and a gun, who we trust to be a police officer.”

He also said the lawsuit could serve “to root out cowards who use a badge.”

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the suit was expected.

“In light of the pending criminal charges against Officer Kerrick, it would be inappropriate to comment on the lawsuit other than to reiterate the City’s and Chief Monroe’s expression of sympathy for Mr. Ferrell’s family,” Hagemann said in a prepared statement.

Kerrick’s criminal attorney, George Laughrun of Charlotte, again called the shooting tragic, but said it was “totally justified given the facts, circumstances, and the state of the law in North Carolina.”

Ferrell, 24, died during a late-night confrontation with police in a northeast Charlotte neighborhood. He had driven there to give a co-worker a ride home. He wrecked his car, kicked out a window to escape, then went to a nearby home for help.

The woman inside the house called 911, saying a man she didn’t know was pounding on her front door. Kerrick and two other officers responded. Monroe, the police chief, says a video from one of the police cars shows that Ferrell didn’t obey orders to stop and get on the ground. Kerrick was the only officer to fire his gun.

The chief described Kerrick’s response as excessive.

Ferrell’s death – and the speed of Kerrick’s arrest – drew national headlines. It also added to a long-running debate in Charlotte on police use of lethal force. Kerrick became the first Charlotte police officer charged with an on-duty shooting in almost 30 years.

At the news conference in Monnett’s office in SouthPark, the mother of the dead man said she felt she “shouldn’t be here.”

“My son was only here for an education, to better his life, to better our lives, to be with his fiancee,” Georgia Ferrell said. “This should never have happened.”

Later, while talking to the Observer, her words took on a rawer edge.

“I want justice for Jonathan. I don’t want any mother, no matter who they are, to know that their children were treated like they treated my child. I don’t want any mother to feel what I feel. You don’t treat an animal like they treated Jonathan.”

Her lawsuit, she said, has nothing to do with money.

“Money doesn’t mean anything to me,” she said. “Life matters to me.”

Why run?

In the lawsuit, the family contends that Ferrell’s death involved excessive force, assault and battery, negligence, improper police training, malice and a violation of Ferrell’s civil rights.

In addition, the suit delves into what the family says is a pattern of excessive force by CMPD, dating back to 1996. The complaint also lists some of the more controversial shooting cases.

Ferrell’s brother Willie told the Observer that his family had grown up with police officers. His sister and brother-in-law are sheriff’s deputies in Florida, and several police and deputies who are friends of the family attended Jonathan Ferrell’s funeral in Tallahassee, Fla.

So it would have been natural, Willie Ferrell said, for his older brother to approach police that night of his death expecting to get help, particularly since he had not committed a crime.

“Law enforcement is supposed to protect you,” he said. “You think everything is OK. You wouldn’t run away when you see someone who is supposed to help.”

In recent months, the city has settled two police lethal force cases for more than $1.3 million combined.

In the most recent, which was announced Friday, the city paid $700,000 to the family of Wayne Furr, who was shot in 2006 while doing repair work on a cell phone tower.

Another suit, this one stemming from the 2010 police shooting of a Charlotte teenager, remains in federal court until the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the city’s motion to have the officer dropped from the case.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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