Randall Kerrick’s brief first appearance before a judge Thursday drew a small burst of community anger – inside and outside the courtroom.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer is scheduled to go on trial in July, charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the September 2013 shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24.
Kerrick’s hearing before Superior Court Judge Tom Edwards attracted about 15 demonstrators who sat quietly for the two minutes or so that it lasted. Afterward, several expressed sorrow and anger for Ferrell’s death as well as for the unarmed black men and teenagers killed recently by police in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and elsewhere.
Unlike most of those cases, the officer in Ferrell’s death was arrested and indicted. If convicted, the 28-year-old Kerrick faces up to 11 years in prison.
But those details did not seem to matter to Brandy Hamilton. As the hearing ended and she was leaving the courtroom, the Charlotte woman, who had no connection to the case, passed within a few feet of the officer. She glared at Kerrick and mumbled something under her breath.
When Kerrick later entered the fifth-floor lobby, Hamilton yelled at him as he walked by.
“I told him he was a f------ murderer,” she said, as a deputy escorted her out of the building.
The killings in the other cities have drawn large and sometimes violent demonstrations nationwide. In Charlotte, where an unarmed Ferrell was shot 10 times by Kerrick in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 14, 2013, the public outcry has been more muted, though it has grown in recent days along with the protests of the other killings and as Kerrick’s court date neared.
On Thursday, a morning prayer vigil and march was canceled after only a few demonstrators appeared. The rescheduled demonstration just before Kerrick’s hearing never materialized.
But when Kerrick and his attorneys, led by a wedge of deputies, left the courthouse, Hamilton and about a dozen others were waiting. As Kerrick was enveloped by a throng of media, the demonstrators moved along the flanks. Some shouted the familiar “No justice, no peace.” Others cursed the officer, Kerrick’s attorneys said later.
Out near Marshall Park, two men watched from the sidewalk as the throng passed before them. “Lock him up,” one of them shouted. “Lock him up, now.”
Kerrick will return to court Feb. 5 for another pretrial hearing. His case is being handled by Special Deputy Attorney General Adren Harris, part of a team of state prosecutors who try cases against police and other public officials.
Kerrick’s defense team, George Laughrun and Michael Greene, said afterward that Thursday’s demonstrations had not shaken their belief that their client can get a fair trial in his home county. They say the shooting of Ferrell, which occurred after the dead man wrecked his car and Kerrick and two other officers responded to a home-invasion 911 call, was tragic but justified.
“The spectacle outside of the courthouse was a little shocking to us,” Greene said in an email to the Observer. “However, both Wes Kerrick and his legal team will defend anyone’s right to peacefully assemble.
“We look forward to selecting a jury of impartial citizens who will look at the evidence and make a determination based solely upon the facts of this case and not their preconceived notions.”
Kerrick’s hearing drew a variety of onlookers. Cache Heidel, Ferrell’s then-fiancé and a Charlotte accountant, sat across the aisle and three rows back from the police officer with her sister and another woman. The three quickly left the courtroom after the hearing ended, and Heidel did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Mae Bostic of Charlotte wore an oversized button with the photo of a man who appeared to have adopted a version of the “I surrender, don’t shoot” pose popularized after Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., policeman.
Instead, the man on the button was Bostick’s son, Edward, whom she said was murdered in Charlotte in the late 1990s. Asked if she also considered Ferrell’s death a murder, Bostick paused.
“Absolutely,” she said. “It’s insensible, and it has to stop. I know police are trained in a certain way. But there has to be another way than shooting all the time. It’s incomprehensible that someone has to be shot 10 times.”
The Rev. Raymond Johnson of Marion, S.C., said he drove 2 1/2 hours to be on hand and was disappointed in the turnout. Afterward, he expressed remorse for the families of both Ferrell and Kerrick.
“I don’t know what happened that night, but I’m asking God to be with the officer,” Johnson said. “He’s grieving, and my heart aches for all of them.”