Questions surround fatal police shooting of former football player in Charlotte

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 15, 2013 

— A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who was charged Saturday with voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man has been released on $50,000 bond, according to a sheriff’s office spokesperson.

Officer Randall Kerrick, 27, was released late Saturday night and has a first appearance court hearing scheduled for Monday, Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Julia Rush said Sunday.

It was the first time in more than three decades that a CMPD officer has been charged in an on-duty shooting.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe said the shooting victim had apparently wrecked his vehicle early Saturday and sought help at a nearby residence before encountering police.

He was identified as Jonathan A. Ferrell, 24, who recently moved to Charlotte from Florida. Kerrick, a Midland resident, had joined the force in April 2011.

The police investigation found “the shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive,” authorities said in a statement late Saturday. “Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”

Monroe said, “It’s with heavy hearts and significant regrets it’s come to this. ... Our hearts go out to the Ferrell family and many members of the CMPD family. This is never something easy.”

At a news conference earlier Saturday at CMPD headquarters, well before charges against Kerrick were announced, Monroe described the incident.

Ferrell was driving a vehicle that crashed into the woods near Reedy Creek Road in northeast Charlotte.

Monroe called the accident severe, adding that Ferrell would have been forced to climb out of the back window to get out. Monroe didn’t know the cause of the crash, and he didn’t say whether Ferrell had injuries from it.

Officers answer break-in call

Ferrell apparently walked to the nearest house, about a half-mile from the accident, and was “banging on the door viciously,” Monroe said. The woman who lives there thought the man at her door was her husband coming home late from work.

But when she saw Ferrell instead, she shut the door and called police because she thought he was trying to rob her.

Officers received a call shortly after 2:30 a.m. about an attempted break-in at a residence in the 7500 block of Reedy Creek Road.

The three officers from the Hickory Grove division who responded to the scene came across a man matching the description of the possible suspect, and they surrounded him. The man “immediately charged” at the police, Monroe said.

Officer Thornell Little unsuccessfully fired his Taser at Ferrell, who continued to run toward them, police said in a statement. Kerrick then fired several rounds at Ferrell, who was shot multiple times and pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Monroe said Ferrell was unarmed. The chief did not think he was trying to rob the woman, saying, “I don’t believe threats were made.”

Authorities said late Saturday that the initial encounter between Ferrell and Kerrick was “appropriate and lawful.” The evidence showed that Ferrell advanced on Kerrick, but the subsequent shooting of Ferrell was “excessive” and violated the law regarding voluntary manslaughter, according to police.

Kerrick turned himself in to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday evening.

Officials could not immediately recall the last time there was a fatal officer-involved shooting of an unarmed person.

Responding to a reporter’s question about the vehicle accident, Monroe said late Saturday that there was no evidence of alcohol but noted that a toxicology report could take several weeks. “It doesn’t change the circumstances or the facts.”

A public records search showed that Ferrell apparently moved to Charlotte early this year from Tallahassee, Fla. He lived in a town house near uptown Charlotte.

A woman who answered the door at his home Saturday afternoon said Ferrell’s family did not want to talk to the media.

Police-related shootings

There have been at least eight other officer-involved shootings in the past five years, and four of them were fatal. In those cases, the victims were armed.

Anyone with information about the Reedy Creek Road incident is asked to call 704-432-TIPS (8477) to speak with a detective or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

At the earlier news conference, Monroe said he had spoken with Kerrick.

“He is pretty shook up,” Monroe said. “He’s devastated.”

The third officer at the scene was identified as Officer Adam Neal. Earlier in the day, CMPD said the officers were on paid administrative leave, which is routine after an officer-involved shooting.

Charge unusual

In 2008, former Mecklenburg district attorney Peter Gilchrist told the Observer he couldn’t remember an example of an officer being charged for a shooting in Charlotte, and an Observer review of records could find no other examples.

Officials with the District Attorney’s office said they couldn’t remember such an example.

Charges against Kerrick appear to have been filed more quickly than other cases involving CMPD officers in recent years.

•  In 2008, Gilchrist took six months deciding not to file charges against Officer David Jester, who shot Aaron Winchester while Winchester fled from police. Gilchrist said Jester had feared for his life. Police said they found a gun near Winchester’s body.

•  In 2009, former CMPD Officer Martray Proctor was charged with involuntary manslaughter after his speeding cruiser struck and killed a Charlotte woman. Charges came four weeks after the wreck.

•  In 2012, CMPD Officer A.J. Holzhauer was not charged in connection with the fatal shooting of a robbery suspect during a struggle. Seven weeks elapsed between the shooting and District Attorney Andrew Murray’s decision not to file charges.

Ruebens: 704-358-5294

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