A pragmatic settlement, again, for the city

The Observer editorial board

The city of Charlotte reached a settlement with former police officer Randall Kerrick this week.
The city of Charlotte reached a settlement with former police officer Randall Kerrick this week. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

In hindsight, the city of Charlotte’s settlement this week with police officer Randall Kerrick might appear to be a bit of a headshaker.

The city announced Thursday that it reached a $179,989.59 settlement with Kerrick, who shot and killed an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell two years ago. Kerrick was tried but not convicted in August on a voluntary manslaughter charge. A jury was unable to reach a verdict then, and the state has said it will not pursue a second trial.

The city’s settlement includes back pay, plus Kerrick’s attorney’s fees in a civil suit brought by Ferrell’s family.

That suit was settled, too, for $2.25 million in an agreement approved by the city in May.

Cue the headshaking.

As critics have noticed, this week’s settlement means the city has now paid both sides of this case. Critics also say that’s the consequence of a miscalculation to arrest Kerrick in the first place.

But in the end, both settlements were the pragmatic course for Charlotte to take.

As we said in May, there are many calculations that go into settlements such as these. Among them, of course, are financial considerations.

In May, the city concluded that if Kerrick were found guilty in his trial, Ferrell’s family might be awarded more than the agreed-to $2.25 million, especially given a nationwide sensitivity to police shootings. In retrospect, Ferrell’s family might have won a civil suit against the city, anyway, thanks to the confusing CMPD use-of-deadly-force policies that Kerrick’s trial exposed.

With Kerrick’s settlement, the city probably made a similar calculation. Kerrick’s attorneys, George Laughrun and Michael Greene, were likely to win many of the concessions the city made in the settlement – and perhaps more.

Certainly, settlements aren’t only about money. In arresting Kerrick, city officials clearly believed he had acted inappropriately in shooting Ferrell. The decision to settle with Ferrell’s family was also about righting a perceived wrong, and it was a way for the city to protect the sometimes fragile relationship between police and the black communities they serve.

The Kerrick settlement might also be about more than the dollars involved. With the agreement, Kerrick will resign and file no future claims against the city. He’s also forbidden from disclosing non-public information about the city, a condition that will limit his ability to talk or write about the shooting or the trial.

It’s the city’s way of closing a public chapter on this tragic case. That doesn’t mean Charlotte and its police force shouldn’t learn from Ferrell’s death; at the least, CMPD needs to clarify its use-of-force policies and training. But in agreeing to a settlement, even two, the city has bowed to a pragmatic, financial reality.