Judge to decide whether documents in fatal shooting are public

A state Superior Court judge will soon determine whether the public will get to learn more information about a high-profile fatal Charlotte-Mecklenburg police shooting of an unarmed man in 2013.

Portions of deposition transcripts related to the shooting are public record, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department says.

But a defense attorney for Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick and the state Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the criminal case, have filed a motion to prevent the city from releasing documents from a civil lawsuit the city settled with the dead man’s family last month.

The legal jostling is significant because a judge will determine whether documents the city says are public records should be released.

Deposition transcripts for five CMPD officers may reveal new information about the killing of Johnathan Ferrell, whose death became part of the national debate over police shootings involving white officers and unarmed African-Americans.

In response to a June 3 open records request from the Observer, CMPD has determined that portions of the transcripts are public documents under North Carolina law. Some exhibits included in the transcripts, however, are not considered public records, CMPD attorney Mark Newbold said Tuesday. They include pictures from the criminal case file, he said.

On Friday, Newbold sent an email to the judge and attorneys in Kerrick’s criminal trial saying the deposition transcripts were public records but the city would not release the records for one week to give time for possible legal objections.

George Laughrun, an attorney representing Kerrick, said releasing the transcripts would impede his client’s rights by generating more publicity that could influence potential jurors.

“A lot of this stuff is not admissible in a criminal trial, probably 90 percent,” Laughrun said. “We don’t want jurors reading this stuff.”

On Sept. 14, 2013, Kerrick shot Ferrell 10 times during an early morning confrontation in northeast Mecklenburg County.

Ferrell, a former college football player, had wrecked his car and then knocked on the door of a nearby home. Kerrick was one of three CMPD officers to answer the 911 call for what they presumed was a break-in.

Kerrick, who is suspended without pay, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter. Police have said the shooting was unnecessary, but Kerrick’s attorneys say he fired his gun in self-defense.

In January 2013, Ferrell’s family sued Kerrick, CMPD, and city and county government. City leaders announced last month they had settled the suit for $2.25 million.

Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027