Crime & Courts

Attorneys: Officer fired in self-defense in Ferrell killing

Jonathan Ferrell
Jonathan Ferrell

Attorneys for a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged in the 2013 shooting death of an unarmed man provided a new account of the killing Friday, saying the officer was attacked and fired in self-defense.

In a court filing, lawyers for Randall “Wes” Kerrick said that he shot 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell in a northeast Mecklenburg neighborhood after seeing Ferrell charge at him and reach toward his waistband. Kerrick and Ferrell fell to the ground, where Ferrell struck the officer in the face and grabbed his gun near the trigger, the court documents say.

Ferrell, a former college football player, was on top of Kerrick when the officer fired his gun again to escape, the records say.

Kerrick pleaded not guilty Friday to voluntary manslaughter, and his attorneys argued that the case should be dismissed.

George Laughrun, an attorney for Kerrick, told the Observer that Kerrick shot Ferrell because he feared for his life and the safety of other officers.

The account stands in contrast to how CMPD and Ferrell’s family have portrayed what happened.

They say Ferrell was shot on Sept. 14, 2013, after he wrecked his car and went to a nearby home, apparently seeking help. The woman inside mistook Ferrell for a burglar, called 911 and reported that an unknown black man was trying to knock down her front door.

When Kerrick and two other officers arrived, Ferrell immediately ran toward them, police said. Kerrick fired his gun, striking Ferrell 10 times.

The killing prompted protests and became a symbol in the national debate over police shootings involving white officers and unarmed African-Americans.

“There will be significant discrepancies between what Officer Kerrick describes and the evidence presented at trial,” said Charles Monnett, an attorney representing the Ferrell family. “I have strong disagreements with what’s described in that motion.”

Monnett said Ferrell may have reached for Kerrick’s gun to stop him from firing more shots. An autopsy shows that Ferrell was shot multiple times while lying on the ground, Monnett said.

Attorneys make requests

Kerrick faces a July jury trial on a charge of voluntary manslaughter. A civil lawsuit filed by Ferrell’s family is scheduled to start in federal court this fall.

Lawyers for Kerrick filed other motions Friday, including:

▪ Asking the court to move the case out of Mecklenburg County, arguing that publicity surrounding the killing has made it impossible for Kerrick to receive a fair trial.

▪ Requesting jurors visit the scene at the time of night the shooting occurred to help sense the conditions.

▪ Asking the court to prevent the prosecution from referring to Ferrell as a victim. Laughrun, the attorney for Kerrick, said the jury should determine whether in fact Ferrell was the victim.

The case has highlighted conflict over how grand juries work. Those who believe Ferrell was unlawfully killed say the original jurors who refused to indict were part of a conspiracy. When the second grand jury did indict, critics of that decision accused those jurors of contributing to double jeopardy.

In Friday’s filings, defense attorneys said the state Attorney General’s Office took inappropriate steps to obtain a criminal indictment against Kerrick.

A grand jury in January 2014 declined to indict Kerrick for voluntary manslaughter but asked prosecutors to submit a lesser charge for them to consider. The Attorney General’s Office resubmitted the same charge to a second grand jury, which indicted Kerrick.

In a motion filed Friday, attorneys for Kerrick accused the state of “selective prosecution” and argued that state law does not grant prosecutors the authority to convene a second grand jury to consider the same charge.

Under state law, however, prosecutors are allowed to return to the grand jury an unlimited number of times in the same case.

State offices were closed when the court filings were released, and a spokeswoman for the N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper could not be reached for comment.

Conflicting accounts

Kerrick became the first Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged with an on-duty shooting in more than 30 years after police Chief Rodney Monroe watched the footage taken by a camera inside a police cruiser parked at the scene. That so-called “dash cam” video remains sealed by court order and in the hands of the Attorney General’s Office, which will try Kerrick’s case.

The incident happened along Reedy Creek Road about 2:30 a.m., when Kerrick and two other officers responded to a call for help. As the officers got out of their car, “Mr. Ferrell immediately ran toward the officers,” according to police. Ferrell moved toward Kerrick.

Another officer deployed his Taser, but police said it was unsuccessful. Kerrick fired his gun.

Chris Chestnut, a Florida attorney representing the Ferrell family, has said the video shows officers did not give Ferrell adequate warning and should not have used lethal force.

In a court filing, defense attorneys said Kerrick gave Ferrell multiple commands to “Get on the ground.”

Asked why Kerrick’s account of the shooting differs sharply from what police and others have described, Laughrun said, “CMPD is not giving you the whole story.”

Clasen-Kelly: 704-358-5027

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