Officer Charged for Killing Unarmed Black Man After Car Accident

Updated: 9/16/13 at 9:22 a.m., with details from police investigation.

By Chris Hoenig

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) police officer has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed man whom officials believe was seeking police assistance after being injured in a serious accident.

The circumstances surrounding the former college football player’s death paint a tragic picture of race and violence in America, 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

It began with a 911 call around 2 a.m. Saturday from a Charlotte woman reporting that someone had knocked repeatedly on her door. When she opened it, a Black man whom she did not recognize was standing outside, so she shut the door, hit her panic button and called police.

Officers responding to the call—which was classified as a “breaking and entering”—encountered Jonathan Ferrell, a man matching the description provided by the homeowner. Ferrell reportedly rushed toward the officers. After an attempt to Taser him was “unsuccessful,” Officer Randall Kerrick opened fire, striking him several times. Ferrell, who had no weapon, died at the scene.

Victim Was Likely Seeking Help

Authorities now believe that Jonathan Ferrell was killed by a police officer from whom he was seeking help.

After the shooting, police located Ferrell’s car, crashed in a nearby ravine. “It was a pretty serious accident,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe told WSOC-TV. Ferrell’s car sustained severe damage and police believe he had climbed out through the shattered back window.

Investigators believe Ferrell went to the nearby home seeking help and likely approached the responding officers seeking their assistance.

Officer Charged

In the hours after Ferrell’s death, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police released a statement painting the encounter as justified, saying that at the woman’s home, Ferrell was “banging on the door viciously.” They described Kerrick’s actions as “lawful.”

Later Saturday, the tone changed.

“The evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive,” the second statement read. “Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.

“This is a very unfortunate incident and it has devastated a family as well as caused a great deal of sadness and anxiety in our organization. However, we must always strive to bring forth all facts and evidence in every case to determine when it is appropriate to place criminal charges against a member of the department.”

Kerrick, who is white, has been charged with voluntary manslaughter, which is defined as using excessive force in self-defense or carrying out the act without the intent to kill. He has been released on $50,000 bond.

Investigators released evidence supporting the charge on Monday. They revealed that Kerrick fired 12 rounds at Ferrell, who was struck by 10 of them. He becomes the sixth person shot and fourth person killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police since 2012. Internal investigations have concluded that all of the other officer-involved shootings were justified.

Family Speaks Out

Ferrell’s brother, Willie, who played football with Jonathan at Florida A&M University, told CNN that the 24-year-old was “the greatest man I ever came in contact with.” Jonathan Ferrell was listed as a 5’11”, 200-pound safety on the Rattlers’ 2011 roster.

“We’re going to file the necessary legal actions to ensure that we get the answers that this family deserves, that America deserves,” Willie Ferrell said. “This was an unwarranted, inhumane shooting.”

Chris Chestnut, an attorney hired by the Ferrell family, said the family wants justice. “This is an all-American young man who survived a horrific accident. He is crying for help and is showered with bullets,” he said, adding that there are greater issues at stake.

“I think this is poor decision-making. I think this is more a reflection of where we are as a country,” he said. “Before we assign race to this issue, perhaps we should pause and consider violence.”

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