The trial of Randall Kerrick, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in 2013, “nearly tore this department apart,” CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told a group of Charlotte leaders on Wednesday.
Putney made the remarks at the monthly luncheon of the Hood Hargett breakfast club, a collection of 300 business and civic leaders. He touched on a number of policing issues that have cropped up in his first year on the job, including his recent request for more officers.
But he was most reflective about the impact of the Kerrick trial on his department. Kerrick’s trial began less than a month after Putney was appointed as CMPD chief and raised questions about the department’s training and procedures.
“That trial really impacted the CMPD family,” Putney said. “It almost ripped us in half. There’s still some healing going on around that issue. It caused a significant morale issue.”
Kerrick was tried last summer after being charged with voluntary manslaughter in the September 2013 death of Jonathan Ferrell.
Kerrick shot Ferrell 10 times during an early morning encounter in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood near Charlotte’s eastern edge. Prosecutors said Kerrick ignored his police training and acted out of fear. Kerrick testified that he fired his gun as Ferrell aggressively ran toward him.
Ferrell was black, and Kerrick is white, and the case fueled racial tensions and drew the city into the national debate about whether police officers are too quick to use deadly force against blacks.
A jury was unable to reach a verdict in the trial. Eight jurors were in favor of acquitting Kerrick, and four believed he was guilty. With the jury hopelessly deadlocked, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin declared a mistrial. About a week later, the N.C. Attorney General’s Office decided not to re-prosecute the case.
Minutes after the mistrial was declared, protesters held a die-in on a street outside the courthouse. Demonstrators roamed city streets later that day.
The city ultimately settled with both Ferrell’s family and Kerrick. The city gave Kerrick $179,989.59, most of which was back pay. The city settled with Ferrell’s family for $2.25 million.
The trial also sparked departmental changes, Putney said. He formed internal and external advisory committees to talk about CMPD policies.
Putney joked that the external committee is composed of “community leaders and people that give me more advice than I care to hear, and they give it to me when I least want it, but they give it to me when I need to hear it the most.”
The internal committee is composed of about 35 police officers, detectives, sergeants and detectives who help the department determine police policy.
“What I realized pretty quickly from them ... is that they needed to have a say,” Putney said. “If they have to actualize what that policy embodies, why don’t they get to at least have an influence on what it says. And that was something that was foreign to us. We hadn’t really done a lot of that.”