Unarmed man shot by police while seeking help after serious car accident
Autopsy shows downward trajectory of bullets, suggesting the football star was already on the ground when shot.
CHARLOTTE, NC — After pulling himself out of a devastating car accident, a man seeking help was shot and killed as he approached police officers, prompting a national outcry against the excessive use of force against an innocent, unarmed man. The police department reversed its initial defense of the shooting to actually charging the officer with voluntary manslaughter.
In the early hours of Saturday, September 14, Jonathan Ferrell, age 24, was the driver in a serious crash in which his truck struck some trees crashed into trees in rural Mecklenburg County. Managing to free himself from the mangled wreckage by climbing out the back window of his truck, he sought help from the nearest home, which was about 1/2 mile away. But his unexpected knock at the door at 2:30 AM was not openly received. The woman inside the home initially thought that the urgent knocks were being made by her husband, but quickly became frightened when she discovered that it was a stranger, whom she thought was a burglar.
“To her surprise, it was an individual that she did not know or recognize,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe. “She immediately closed the door, hit her panic alarm, called 9-1-1.”
The man stood outside and “continued to attempt to gain the attention of the homeowner,” a police statement said. Chief Monroe described the Ferrell’s desperate knocks as “vicious” during a press conference.
Police arrived and located Ferrell a short distance from the home, who must have been relieved to see some first-responders to his car accident. But police were looking for a burglary suspect, not a victim.
According to the Charlotte Observer, 3 Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers located the man who matched the description from the 9-1-1 call, and Officer Randall Kerrick fired his weapon multiple times as Ferrell ran towards them.
Chief Monroe gave the following description of the scene in a press conference: “He immediately charged toward the three officers, one in particular. That officer in particular fired his weapon several times, striking the individual multiple times.”
Monroe also conceded that he did not think he was trying to rob the woman, saying, “I don’t believe threats were made.” The chief confirmed that Ferrell was unarmed.
Ferrell died at the scene. No evidence of alcohol has been related to the crash.
Initially police authorities defended the shooting, describing Kerrick’s actions late Saturday as “appropriate and lawful,” reported the Charlotte Observer. But the shooting was evidently too much to defend, and the department, to their credit, filed charges against Officer Randall Kerrick Saturday evening. Kerrick turned himself in, facing charges of voluntary manslaughter.
All three officers have been placed on paid leave.
“The evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive,” police said in a statement. “Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”
Kerrick, 27, of Midland, was already released on $50,000 bond, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office website. Kerrick joined the police force in April 2011.
Ferrell was a former football player at Florida A&M University, and played safety during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He participated on the 2010 Co-MEAC Championship football team, according to WTXL.
He would have turned 25 in October, and leaves behind a fiancée.
UPDATE (1/14/2014) — Evidence Says Ferrell Was On Ground When Shot, Family Files Lawsuit
The results of the autopsy show a downward trajectory by most of the bullets, suggesting that Ferrell was either on his knees or already on the ground when Officer Randall Kerrick fired most of his shots, reported NBC News.
“This was a murderer who was acting while on duty. Taxpayers were paying him, and he murdered someone,” said Christopher Chestnut, the family’s attorney.
Ferrell’s parents have filed a lawsuit and hope to use subpoena power to force police to relinquish evidence, such as the dash-cam video from the night of their son’s death.
“We all deserve answers. The department needs answers,” said Chestnut.
UPDATE (1/22/2014) — Kerrick Escapes Indictment for Voluntary Manslaughter
The Grand Jury declined to indict Officer Kerrick for voluntary manslaughter, a charge that carries a sentence of 3 to 11 years in prison.
“We the Grand Jury respectfully request that the district attorney submit a bill of indictment to a lesser-included or related offense,” the jury wrote.
The charges came directly from Kerrick’s superiors after they watched the video of him shooting unarmed Johnathan Ferrell.
Kerrick’s attorney, George Laughrun, said that the officer was “extremely relieved that the grand jury members saw fit to keep an open mind and not listen to all the propaganda on all the things he did wrong … What they decided … was that Officer Randall Kerrick did his job. Regretfully, it cost the life of Jonathan Ferrell. But he did his job.”
“What did the attorney general present to this grand jury and what was omitted?” asked attorney Chris Chestnut, according to the Charlotte Observer. “Having seen the video, I cannot believe that the citizens of Charlotte could watch it and not indict. I question whether they were shown it.”
Chestnut called the grand jury’s decision “highly suspicious and gravely concerning.” He added: “It’s that important a case. This feels like they don’t value Jonathan’s life.”