DURHAM, N.C. -- A county grand jury has indicted a Charlotte, N.C., police officer on a voluntary manslaughter charge for shooting and killing an unarmed former Florida A&M football player who sought help after he crashed his car late at night in a residential neighborhood in September.
Officer Randall Kerrick, 28, a former animal control officer with three years of police experience, fired 12 shots at 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell just after 2 a.m. Sept. 14, striking him with 10 bullets on a residential Charlotte street. Ferrell had crashed his car nearby and then knocked on a door in search of assistance, according to police reports.
Inside, a woman home alone with her year-old child became alarmed and called 911. The woman, who is white, told the operator a black man was trying to break in.
Ferrell was black and officer Kerrick is white, and the fatal shooting has raised racial tensions in Charlotte. Randall’s family has not made race an issue, but the Charlotte chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People has questioned whether race played a role in the shooting.
"We will persevere in our quest for justice for not just Jonathan, but all law-abiding citizens,’’ Ferrell’s family said in a statement. "After all, what happened that night could happen to any of us.’’
Charles G. Monnett III, a Charlotte attorney representing the family, told The Times on Tuesday he appreciated the efforts of the grand jury to "appropriately examine the evidence’’ in the case. Monnett said the Ferrell family will continue to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit filed this month against the city, county, police chief and officer Kerrick.
"We hope to change the culture and attitude and training of the police department so that this type of thing doesn’t happen again,’’ Monnett said.
The Mecklenberg County grand jury ruling came late Monday, after a previous grand jury last week declined to indict Kerrick on the same voluntary manslaughter charge. That Mecklenberg County jury suggested that it be asked to consider a lesser charge.
Instead, North Carolina Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper announced last week prosecutors would seek the same voluntary manslaughter charge from a second sitting grand jury in the county.
The officer’s attorney asked a judge to block the second grand jury hearing, contending that giving prosecutors two tries at an indictment violated Kerrick’s right to a fair hearing. But a judge allowed the second hearing.
Cooper, a Democrat, is expected to run for governor in 2016.
"How in the world is that grand jury supposed to go into that courtroom and make a decision when you’ve also got the NAACP outside?’’ defense attorney Michael Greene asked Superior Court Judge Bob Bell, referring to demonstrators a few blocks from the courthouse. Bell allowed the second grand jury to proceed.
The indictment marked the first time in more than 30 years a Charlotte police officer has been charged in an on-duty shooting. The voluntary manslaughter charge carries a prison sentence of up to 11 years.
Greene and co-counsel George V. Laughrun II said afterward prosecutors had forced a rushed judgment.
"Those outraged have simply not heard all of the facts and hasten to a position,’’ they said in a statement. "The true outrage of this community should be at the attorney general’s complete disregard of the original findings of our first grand jury.’’ The shooting "while tragic, was justified,’’ the statement said.
The second grand jury found Kerrick "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did kill and slay Jonathan Akeem Ferrell.’’
The day of the shooting, a police statement said Kerrick "did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.’’ The statement added that although "the evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick," the investigation "showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive.’’
Ferrell, who had no criminal record, moved to Charlotte from Tallahassee to be with his fiance, his family has said. The night he died, he met friends for drinks at a bar, then drove home through the Brandfield Farms neighborhood. Ferrell’s autopsy showed a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit to drive.
On his way out of the neighborhood, Ferrell wrecked his car and had to kick his way out. Having lost his cellphone in the accident, he walked about a quarter of a mile and knocked on the door of one of the first houses he saw.
After the woman inside called police, Kerrick was one of three officers to respond. According to police, Ferrell approached the officers, ignoring their orders to stop. One officer fired a Taser but did not hit Ferrell.
Ferrell moved toward Kerrick, according to the police account. The officer then fired 12 times, striking Ferrell with 10 shots.
According to the civil lawsuit, the woman inside the house did not realize Ferrell "may be injured and is in need of assistance and becomes frightened by his presence on her doorstep at such a late hour.’’ She activated her home alarm, the suit said.
Ferrell was "yelling for her to turn her alarm off,’’ the suit said. The suit suggests the woman gave police no reason to believe Ferrell was dangerous because she did not tell them Ferrell had threatened her, vandalized her home or carried a weapon. Ferrell then walked back to the street to find another home where he could ask for help, the suit said.
Kerrick did not speak to the woman, according to the suit, and instead confronted Ferrell on the street. The suit said Ferrell "never engages in any conduct which can be objectively reasonably determined as aggravated active aggression.’’
Kerrick was arrested within 24 hours of the shooting and placed on unpaid leave. He has been free on a $50,000 bond.