Crime & Courts

Officer who shot and killed gunman at Northlake mall won’t be charged

A police officer who shot and killed a teenage gunman after a Christmas Eve fight at Northlake mall last year will not be charged with a crime, the Mecklenburg district attorney’s office said Thursday.

In a letter to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, District Attorney Andrew Murray said Officer Thomas Ferguson reasonably believed that his life or another person’s life was in danger from 19-year-old Daquan Westbrook. That justified the killing under North Carolina law.

In a summary of the shooting, the district attorney’s office provided new details about an incident that sparked panic in a mall crammed with people during a peak shopping time.

Among the new details:

▪ Ferguson saw Westbrook fire a 9 mm handgun into the Journeys store and heard screaming from inside the store. Police later discovered that a man had been shot by Westbrook, although the victim did not cooperate with investigators.

▪ Ferguson shot Westbrook four times – twice in the back and twice in the chest. Westbrook died of the gunshot wounds to his chest. The officer fired his gun after Westbrook shot into the store, but the suspect’s back was to Ferguson when he fired.

▪ Officer Ferguson wasn’t wearing a body camera, and there is no video footage of either shooting. Officers working off-duty security jobs as Ferguson had been on Christmas Eve aren’t required to wear the cameras. Ferguson was the only officer present during the shooting.

Northlake was jammed with last-minute holiday shoppers Dec. 24 when an argument broke out between two groups involved in an ongoing dispute, police said. At least two of the people involved pulled guns and opened fire on the mall’s lower level near Dick’s Sporting Goods.

In the ensuing chaos, patrons dived under tables in the food court or barricaded themselves in bathrooms. Police from across the city sped to the scene, fearing an officer had been shot or that an active shooter was firing on shoppers. The shooting happened less than a month after mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ferguson was one of four officers hired by the mall for security jobs on Christmas Eve. He was close to the Journeys store that was the site of the disturbance and was the first CMPD officer on scene.

Ferguson “saw Westbrook take a step into Journeys and fire the gun into the store,” the letter from Murray says. The letter says Westbrook’s gun had an after-market magazine inserted that held twice the number of bullets as a regular clip.

“Ofc. Ferguson could not see into the back of the store ... however, he could hear people inside the store screaming,” the letter said. One man was hit by a bullet fired by Westbrook.

After seeing Westbrook fire, Ferguson fired his CMPD-issued handgun. Westbrook fell to the ground while turning toward Ferguson, the letter said.

Westbrook never released the gun. Another CMPD officer who arrived shortly after the shooting removed the gun from beneath Westbrook’s unresponsive body “for everyone’s safety,” the letter says.

The review by the district attorney’s office clears Ferguson of criminal charges, but prosecutors did not seek to determine whether the officer adhered to CMPD policy in the shooting.

Police have not released details about that internal investigation, although police told the Observer last month that Ferguson has returned to active duty.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson