Crime & Courts

‘You told me to...’: Charlotte man appeared to be lowering gun when police shot him

Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 19 to remove an incorrect statement attributed to a CMPD spokesman regarding additional body camera footage.

Danquirs Franklin appeared to be lowering a gun toward the ground at the time a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot him, a video released Monday shows.

CMPD released body-worn camera footage from the March 25 confrontation when Officer Wende Kerl killed Franklin in the parking lot of a west Charlotte Burger King. Kerl was responding to frantic 911 calls about a man with a gun threatening people at the restaurant.

Kerl’s body camera shows that she and another officer instructed Franklin to put the gun down more than 15 times in the roughly 40 seconds before he was shot. In that span, the gun is not visible in the video.

Franklin, 27, is shown squatting next to an open car door. Another man is in the car’s passenger seat. Kerl is standing less than a car-length away from Franklin.

The male officer shouts to Franklin: “Sir, put the gun down.” Kerl yells, “Put the gun down!”

The last command Kerl yells before firing is, “Put it on the ground!”

Franklin reached his right hand toward a pocket and pulled out a gun by the barrel. He appeared to be lowering the weapon when Kerl fired two shots, the video shows.

Moments after being shot, Franklin turns his face toward the officers and can be heard saying: “You told me to...”

The video cuts off seconds later, after he slumps over.

‘There might be some anger’

The video, which is two minutes and 20 seconds long, ends 20 seconds after shots are fired. CMPD Lt. Brad Koch said Monday no dashboard camera footage exists.

In response to a court petition from local media, Mecklenburg Superior Judge Donnie Hoover on Thursday ordered CMPD to release the video on Monday over objections of Kerl’s attorney and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office.

Hoover told CMPD to blur the faces of bystanders before the video could be released. The Observer cut the first one minute of the video, which only shows Kerl’s drive to the scene, but no other edits have been made.

City leaders feared the video could spark violent protests similar to those that erupted in 2016 following the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

Mayor Vi Lyles and CMPD Chief Kerr Putney urged calm at a press conference hours before the video was released.

“There might be some anger,” Lyles said.

Putney said there were at least seven protests or public rallies planned.

“We are prepared for the worst but praying for the the best,” he said.

Following the video release, the police accountability group Charlotte Uprising held a rally in uptown’s Marshall Park. The group maintains that police officers “murdered” Franklin. About two dozen people had gathered by 6:30 p.m. as smooth jazz played on loudspeakers.

Community gatherings were also planned for 7 p.m. Monday at five locations around the city in hopes of keeping protesters from converging in uptown, organizers say.

By law, police officers can use deadly force if they or others face an “objectively reasonable” imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death.

CMPD did not respond to multiple calls or emailed questions from the Observer about the events shown in the video. A lawyer for Kerl, Jeremy Smith, would not comment on the video.

In a statement summarizing the shooting, the city of Charlotte said that “Kerl perceived an imminent, deadly threat and subsequently fired her department issued firearm two times.”

CMPD is still investigating, the statement said.

Charlotte City Council member Larken Egleston said he believes people who watch video of a police shooting are swayed by their preconceived notions of police. Some people in Charlotte, he said, are pre-disposed to think police officers are always right while others believe they’re always wrong.

“None of those opinions are fully right or fully wrong,” he said. “But people are likely to see what they go into it expecting to see.”

Was the shooting justified?

The release of the video comes after weeks of speculation about what happened.

The shooting has already led to a school walkout and other protests and added to the debate about the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police officers.

CMPD and some activists have provided conflicting accounts about what happened.

Emily Castillo Leon was an English teacher at Phillip O. Berry High School when Franklin was a 10th grader there.

She and Franklin have kept in touch in the years since. Castillo Leon, who now lives in Atlanta where she heads a charter school, said she was appalled after watching the video of the shooting.

“There is no way” the shooting was justified, she said. “He was sitting there in the most non-threatening way possible. His two choices were get killed for complying with them or get killed for not complying. He was going to get killed no matter what.”

Kass Ottley, one of the city’s leading protest organizers, said she and others planned to stage a Monday demonstration in uptown Charlotte because the video showed the shooting was a miscarriage of justice.

CMPD has promised after past shootings that officers would use de-escalation tactics to defuse potentially violent encounters, but none of that is evident in the video, Ottley said.

“I’m so upset because I’m tired of seeing the same thing over and over again,” Ottley said. “He should have been able to walk out of that alive.”

But Kenneth Williams, a law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston who has studied and written about police uses of force, said the video and initial facts suggest that prosecutors would have difficulty proving that Kerl violated the law.

“I believe this would be an extremely difficult case in which to obtain a conviction if the officers are charged,” he wrote in an email to the Observer.

Still, Williams said, officers might have been able to take other steps to prevent bloodshed.

“In hindsight, the officers probably could have said, ‘Put your hands up. Don’t move. Don’t reach toward the gun. And if you move toward your gun, we’ll shoot you.’ ”

Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said he believes the video “raises some serious questions about the officers’ tactics.

“In this case, one of the officers was standing less than a car-length away from an armed subject with nothing but air between them for more than 30 seconds,” he wrote in an email to the Observer. “If, for example, the officers had taken positions of relative safety, they might have been more comfortable waiting to see if Mr. Franklin was going to put the gun on the ground the way that they had commanded him to, rather than shooting him at the moment they did.”

‘He got a gun!’

Despite the video’s release, it remains unclear what led up to the encounter between Franklin and police.

Friends and other acquaintances described him as kind and a dedicated father.

In 2010, the Observer profiled Franklin and the obstacles he overcame to graduate from high school.

“He had cocaine in his body when he was born,” his mother, Deborah Franklin told the Observer in 2010. “I did drugs all nine months I was pregnant. But God helped him. He overcame it.”

After high school graduation, Franklin attended the Art Institute of Charlotte, said Castillo Leon, his former teacher.

Struggling to pay tuition and balance classes with a full-time job, he dropped out, Castillo Leon said.

He worked as a fry cook to support himself and three children he had with his longtime girlfriend, she said.

Castillo Leon said he spent his free time with his children, playing basketball and reading comics.

Activists and people acquainted with Franklin have said that on the day of the shooting, he came to the restaurant upset with someone who worked there.

According to 911 calls, two women called separately from the Burger King to say they saw a man with a gun.

“A customer came up here and he walked behind the counter to fight an employee,” said the first 911 caller, who was inside the restaurant. Moments later, her voice got more urgent.

“He got a gun! He got a gun!” she said, adding that he was pointing it at employees.

The man was apparently in and out of the restaurant during the two-minute call.

At one point, the caller can be heard instructing someone to lock the door. In the second call, a woman outside the Burger King said a man was running up to her car and appeared to be pulling out a gun.

The caller said she did not actually see a gun, but she drove off. Officers arrived at the scene four minutes after the first 911 call began, police said.

CMPD’s Chief Putney has refused to offer an opinion about the shooting and the video, saying he wants to protect the integrity of the police investigation.

But he said watching the video is painful.

“(It’s) like a punch to the gut,” Putney said. “It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to see because a life has been lost.”

Staff writer Mark Price contributed.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly paraphrased comments by CMPD Lt. Brad Koch about how much video was recorded by Officer Wende Kerl's body-worn camera.
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