More details – and consequences – are beginning to emerge from a tragic incident in northeast Mecklenburg County over the weekend. 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed by CMPD Officer Randall Kerrick, who has now been charged with voluntary manslaughter. All Things Considered Host Mark Rumsey spoke with WFAE's Julie Rose about new developments in the story.
Julie, you were at a press conference with Mr. Ferrell's family this morning. What were you able to learn from them about the incident?
ROSE: Well, this is a grieving family – they drove up from Tallahassee to meet with CMPD and try to get some answers about Jonathan's death. His mother and younger brother talked about how he'd moved here a year ago. He had a fiancée. He was working a couple of jobs, planning to enroll in college. He'd been attending Florida A&M where he was studying chemistry and played football. They described him as a hardworking, honest kid with no criminal record as far as we can tell. Jonathan's mom says she talked to him on Friday evening and he sounded happy and excited about getting married in a year or so. Around 2 a.m. the next morning Ferrell wrecked his black Toyota Camry down an embankment off Reedy Creek Road, kicked his way out the rear window and went for help. He ended up pounding on the door of a woman who was frightened and called 911.
Three officers responded, and from here it gets murky. Investigators say there were no signs of alcohol use, though the toxicology test isn't finished. We know Ferrell was unarmed. Apparently he came running at the officers. As far as Ferrell's family could tell after their meeting with CMPD this morning, there was no attempt to communicate him as he ran toward the officers. Here's the Ferrell's attorney – Christopher Chestnut.
CHESTNUT: "There were no commands to stop. Freeze, stop or I'll shoot. Police! I think this is a young man who probably was going towards the police officers, the same way if you are injured in a car accident, you saw red or blue lights you run – to them. For help. Not to death."
ROSE: We've just learned from CMPD that officer Kerrick fired his gun 12 times. Ten of those bullets struck Ferrell.
RUMSEY: Chestnut is a high profile attorney who specializes in wrongful death lawsuits. Is the family planning to sue?
ROSE: They're leaving the option open. But this is an unusual case because here you've got CMPD charging one of its own with voluntary manslaughter less than 24 hours after the incident. So in that regard, Chestnut says the Ferrell's are grateful:
CHESTNUT: "If you take away the badge from this officer, this was murder, this was manslaughter. And the chief acted appropriately taking such a bold move and we applaud him."
RUMSEY: What does this charge of voluntary manslaughter mean?
ROSE: It charges that while Officer Randall Kerrick, may not have meant to kill Jonathan Ferrell, he used excessive force. In North Carolina, that's a felony that could get Kerrick between three and six and a half years in prison, so long as he has no other criminal record. What we know about Kerrick's background so far is that he worked for animal control for about a year before transferring to the police force in April 2011. His CMPD personnel file shows an eight-hour suspension last December, but we don't know what that was for and CMPD isn't saying. Kerrick turned himself in on Saturday night and was released on $50,000 bond. He'll make his first appearance in court tomorrow.
RUMSEY: Is CMPD saying why they charged Kerrick so quickly when internal investigations usually take weeks?
ROSE: I asked City Manager Ron Carlee about that today.
CARLEE: "As the police chief told me – just very straightforward - they make decisions to charge people every day in big crimes and small crimes. Once you have probable cause you act. We went through the course of the day, we did a very thorough investigation and once we had probably cause we did what we would do in another case."
RUMSEY: I know there's been quite a bit of reaction to all of this in the community. You were at a press conference with the NAACP and ACLU earlier today. What are they saying?
ROSE: That CMPD should take this incident as further evidence of the need to reform its system for investigating citizen complaints of police misconduct. Local NAACP president Kojo Nantambu also alleges the shooting was racially motivated, since Ferrell was black and Kerrick is white. But the family's attorney did not go that far – saying he thinks the real issue is our tendency toward violence as a society.