Six days of testimony and 24 witnesses into Randall “Wes” Kerrick’s manslaughter trial, jurors still have not heard a word of testimony showing that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer broke the law.
That should change Tuesday.
One of the prosecution’s last witnesses – CMPD training expert Capt. Mike Campagna – could be its most pivotal.
The 23-year police veteran is expected to testify on whether Kerrick violated state law and department policy when he opened fire two years ago on an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell. If convicted, Kerrick faces between three and 11 years in prison.
Ferrell, 24, approached police after wrecking his fiancee’s car in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood, east of Charlotte, and pounding on a nearby door.
Kerrick, 29, was one of three CMPD officers to answer the subsequent breaking-and-entering call. The meeting between Ferrell and police lasted less than 20 seconds. It ended with Ferrell and Kerrick entangled in a ditch. Ferrell had been shot 10 times.
While it is unclear what Campagna will say, Kerrick’s defense team of Michael Greene and George Laughrun is expected to challenge his expertise. They have subpoenaed Campagna’s college records along with his personnel file.
The jurors – seven whites, three African-Americans and two Latinos – will weigh Campagna’s expert opinion against the videotape they watched Monday of Kerrick breaking down in tears as he described the fatal confrontation with Ferrell.
Kerrick, still wearing the dead man’s blood on his uniform, told investigators that Ferrell ignored commands and that the officer’s first three gunshots from close range didn’t seem to affect the former college football player.
“I had lethal on him,” Kerrick said in the video, referring to drawing his weapon. “I’m backpedaling. I’m yelling, ‘Stop, stop stop.’ I fire my weapon, and it didn’t faze him. I felt like (I shot him) two to three times ... and he keeps coming even faster. ... My gun was not stopping him.”
Tuesday, prosecutors are expected to ask Campagna if Kerrick should have pulled his gun in the first place.
Monday, the CMPD captain outlined the department’s policies on use of force, which follow state law. In general, CMPD instructs officers to limit force only to what’s needed to fend off an attack, Campagna said.
The use of deadly force, he said, is limited to situations where police “reasonably believe” they must protect themselves or others from the threat of death or serious injury; to stop someone who is using deadly force to escape; or in cases where the person poses the imminent threat of death or serious injury if he or she is not stopped.
According to testimony from another training officer, Kerrick violated CMPD policy when he turned off the camera inside his police car when he entered Bradfield Farms that night. Police are supposed to keep the camera running until the incident is over.
On the morning of Sept. 14, 2013, neither of the officers appears to have given Ferrell any verbal commands as he approached them, prosecutors say. Nor did they try to physically restrain Ferrell or use pepper sprays, batons or other means.
Instead, as Ferrell walked up, Little drew his Taser; Kerrick pulled his gun. When Little fired, Ferrell ran and disappeared off camera. Kerrick yells three times, “Get on the ground!” Some three seconds after the first order, Kerrick fired the first of 12 shots.
During his interview with detectives, Kerrick said he feared for his life and those of his fellow officers as Ferrell came toward him. During their struggled in the ditch, Kerrick said Ferrell put his hand on his gun.
“He was grabbing at my leg, coming up my body. I feel a jerk on my gun. ... I let out a yell, screaming,” Kerrick said. “I’m firing to get him off me. ... I’m yelling at him to stop. My own fear while I was on the ground was that he could get my gun, shoot me with it, and Thor (Little) was out there.”
When asked by detectives why he pulled his gun, Kerrick cited his experience along with his training.
Tuesday, Campagna is expected to testify on whether Kerrick applied those lessons properly.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Leland contributed.