Lawyers for Randall “Wes” Kerrick continued to pound away Wednesday at what they describe as conflicting orders the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer received on the use of deadly force.
But one of the defense’s own witnesses – a longtime trainer at the city’s police academy – articulated department standards with a clarity uncommon for Kerrick’s voluntary manslaughter trial.
Lethal force, Officer Kip White said, is a last resort – particularly in dynamic situations where the suspect has no visible weapon.
White told Assistant Attorney General Teresa Postell that trainers pass along a motto to police recruits: “If there is doubt, there is no doubt that we will not shoot.”
Postell referred to an earlier interview between White and Kerrick’s prosecutors. Did White tell them, “If there’s another option, then lethal force is not an option,” she asked.
“Yes, I did,” White replied.
White was one of several CMPD witnesses defense attorneys Michael Greene and George Laughrun called Wednesday to illustrate what the attorneys say is the police department’s inconsistent directives involving lethal force.
If there is another option, then lethal force is not an option.
CMPD veteran trainer Kip White
Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the Sept. 14, 2013 shooting death of an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old former college football player. If convicted, Kerrick faces up to 11 years in prison. Laughrun said Wednesday that Kerrick, 29, will testify in his own defense.
Ferrell had wrecked his fiancee’s car and had pounded on a nearby door at around 2:30 a.m. When the woman inside called 911 to report an attempted break-in, Kerrick was one of three officers to respond.
Prosecutors say that after walking up to police, Ferrell bolted after one of the officers aimed his Taser at him. He ran directly at Kerrick, who had pulled his pistol and shot Ferrell 10 times.
Kerrick told detectives investigating the case that he pulled his pistol to offer cover for fellow officer Thornell Little, who had drawn his Taser. He said he opened fire when Ferrell was about 10 feet away because Ferrell ignored orders to stop, and Kerrick was afraid the bigger man would take his gun and possibly kill him and his fellow officers. He said he never saw a weapon in Ferrell’s hands.
A CMPD training expert told jurors Tuesday that Kerrick was justified in pulling his weapon. But given the circumstances and the fact that Ferrell was clearly unarmed, Capt. Mike Campagna testified that Kerrick had used excessive force in opening fire.
Kerrick’s decision “to go lethal,” or pull his gun, to back up another officer who was using his Taser was a breach of department training, Campagna added.
The defense seized upon Campagna’s statement for much of the morning’s testimony. Under questioning by Laughrun, Lt. Eric Brady said he told Kerrick and another officer who had both pulled Tasers at a 2012 traffic stop that when they believe a suspect has a weapon “one of you needs to be lethal.”
With White on the stand, Laughrun showed the courtroom three videos in which White leads officers through simulated crime scenes with varying levels of threats.
One opens with a man with his back to the officers. He turns and runs at them with a knife, covering the ground in a second or two.
White said one of the lessons of training is that police rarely “have a green light to shoot” but should use other options until deadly force is clearly required. “Going lethal,” he said, often means only being ready to pull your gun as needed.
This jury is determining this man’s liberty, and I think they should see the entire picture.
Defense attorney Michael Greene, unsuccessfully arguing for the jury to visit the shooting scene at night.
Under Laughrun’s questioning, White acknowledged that every crime scene is different and that police decisions are based on circumstances that can change by the second.
Laughrun talked about cues that “raise an officer’s awareness,” and put the spotlight back on Ferrell.
“Someone running at an officer would raise awareness, wouldn’t it?” he asked.
“Yes it would,” White said.
“Failure to follow commands, that would raise awareness,” Laughrun said. “Failure to show your hands, that would raise awareness. Reaching in his crotch area where he might have a weapon ... ”
Those, too, White agreed.