Crime & Courts

Expert: Kerrick violated training in fatal shooting

Randall “Wes” Kerrick used excessive force when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell two years ago, a training expert testified Tuesday.

CMPD Capt. Mike Campagna told jurors that given the circumstances – from what Kerrick knew from dispatchers to how events quickly happened – the 29-year-old officer violated police policies by opening fire on Ferrell as the former college football player ran toward him on a Sept. 14, 2013.

Ferrell, who was unarmed, was hit by 10 gunshots. Most came when Ferrell and Kerrick were a few feet apart or on top of each other.

Campagna said Kerrick was justified in pulling his gun but not in using it. Instead, Kerrick should have holstered his Smith & Wesson 40-caliber pistol and used other options to restrain Ferrell – from firing his Taser, to using his baton or pepper spray, to even kicking or punching the approaching man.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers are taught to respond to a threat with only the force needed to subdue a subject, Campagna testified.

What was the highest response Kerrick should have used, prosecutor Teresa Postell asked?

“Non-deadly force,” Campagna said.

“Was shooting Jonathan consistent with CMPD policy and training?” Postell asked.

“No, it was not,” Campagna said.

Kerrick is on trial for voluntary manslaughter. If convicted, he faces three to 11 years in prison.

The prosecution rested Tuesday. Campagna was the 25th and last witness – and the first to offer an expert opinion on whether Kerrick veered from his training and violated police policies.

Kerrick’s defense team, which has argued that the shooting was justified, pounced on what they say were conflicting directives their client received on the use of force.

Kerrick told investigators in a recorded interview shown to the jury last week that he pulled his firearm on Ferrell when he saw another officer point his Taser. He said he based that decision on his training at CMPD’s police academy and his experience on the street.

Campagna, however, testified that Kerrick’s decision to pull his gun to back up an officer who had drawn his Taser violated CMPD policies.

Defense attorney George Laughrun later asked Campagna if he knew that a month before the shooting, Kerrick had watched a CMPD training video that, according to the attorney, told Kerrick repeatedly that when another officer pulls a Taser, “you have to go lethal (pull your gun).”

A fellow patrol officer – C.T. Thompson – testified later in the day that when he and Kerrick both pulled Tasers during a 2012 stop of a suspicious vehicle, their superior officer later corrected them. Laughrun read from a report in which the commanding officer, who is expected to testify Wednesday, said it “defied logic” that Kerrick had not pulled his firearm.

CMPD prides itself on training, but the testimony Tuesday seemed to show a gap over what’s being taught.

“There’s a disconnect between policy and practices,” says a former CMPD commander, who asked not to be identified. “And it’s terrible.”

The daylong back-and-forth continued to cast light on life-and-death choices a police officer must make in often dynamic situations. The encounter between Ferrell and the police officers lasted only 10 seconds from the time Ferrell approached to the moment Kerrick stopped shooting.

Laughrun persisted in trying to pin blame for Ferrell’s death on his own actions that night, from what he described as Ferrell pounding on a door after wrecking his fiancee’s car to ignoring police orders and never asking for help.

Prosecutors say the situation worsened only after an officer aimed his Taser at Ferrell, and Ferrell began to run – straight at Kerrick.

Postell led Campagna through in a series of photographs taken from a police video. Campagna appeared to suggest three officers should have found a way to restrain one unarmed subject without deadly force. When one officer pulls a Taser in a non-deadly force situation, Campagna said, the other should be ready to apply handcuffs.

“What do people normally do when they need help and see the police?” Postell asked.

“They normally would walk up to us and engage in a conversation,” Campagna said.

Laughrun had a rejoinder.

“Would it be normal for someone to walk up, not say a word, and then run at three officers?” he asked.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS