The family of an unarmed man fatally shot in September by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the officer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, and local government.
It claims that each of those named contributed to the “grossly negligent” and “reckless” acts that led to the Sept. 14 shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player and recent Charlotte transplant.
At a news conference late Tuesday morning, Jonathan Ferrell’s mother Georgia Ferrell said she felt she “shouldn’t be here.”
“My sons was only here for an education, to better his life, to better our lives, to be with his fiancee,” she added. “I feel I shouldn’t have been here. This should never have happened.”
Ferrell's death drew national headlines. He was hit by 10 bullets during a late-night confrontation with police in a northeast Charlotte neighborhood after Ferrell wrecked his car.
CMPD Officer Randall Kerrick, who fired a dozen shots in all, has been charged with manslaughter in connection with Ferrell's death.
The criminal side of the case, which is being handled by the attorney general, will go to a grand jury next Tuesday. The civil suit had been expected for months.
In it, the family contends that Ferrell’s death involved excessive force, assault and battery, negligence, improper police training, malice, punitive damages and a violation of Ferrell’s civil rights.
In addition, the suit delves into what the family says is a pattern of excessive force by CMPD, dating back to 1996.
It claims that the department’s handling of those cases varies widely depending on whom files the complaint. According to the suit, little more than a fourth of the complaints filed by the public lead to findings of police misconduct compared to 85 percent of the complaints filed by CMPD.
During the news conference Tuesday, Chris Chestnut, an attorney representing the Ferrell family, said a sister and brother-in-law of Jonathan Ferrell are law enforcement officers in Tallahassee, Fla., and the family has “great respect” for police.
But he said the lawsuit was needed “to root out cowards that hide behind a badge.”
The family says Ferrell was in the Charlotte subdivision the night of his death because he had given a co-worker a ride home and had wrecked his 1999 Toyota on unfamiliar streets. Toxicology reports showed that Ferrell had been drinking that night, but his blood-alcohol level was below the legal limit.
Three officers responded that night to a 911 call from a woman in the neighborhood who said a man was trying to break down her door. Only Kerrick fired his weapon.
Monroe has said a video from one of the police cars at the scene shows that Ferrell did not follow officers' warnings to get on the ground as he approached them.
Kerrick is the first Charlotte officer charged in connection with an on-duty shooting in at least 30 years. He has remained on unpaid leave since his arrest.
The fact that he has been charged raises questions on who will defend him in the lawsuit. In an overwhelming number of cases, the city either represents its officers in court or pays someone else to do so.
Chestnut has been a critic of the handling of the criminal case from the start, saying Ferrell's family in Tallahassee, Fla., has received little information from police and the state investigators in charge.
"There has been no significant movement despite overwhelming evidence,” Chestnut said Friday. "Perhaps the wheels of justice will move faster in a civil arena.
“Sometimes lawyers get a bad rap. But nobody will give us an answer. So we have to sue everybody to get answers that are really a matter of public record.”
Chestnut said the suit will allow the family to subpoena witnesses and collect information that has until now been kept private.
“This is information that the public and the family deserves,” Chestnut said. “The city and police are terrified at what might be coming out, and they should be.”
Word of the pending lawsuit came the same day the city of Charlotte said it had settled a 7-year-old lawsuit stemming from a fatal police shooting in 2006.
The family of Wayne Furr, who was fatally shot by a police officer while doing repair work on a cellphone tower, will receive $700,000, the city announced Friday.
Another lawsuit, this one stemming from the 2010 police shooting of a Charlotte teenager, remains in federal court until the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the city's motion to have the officer dropped from the case.
Newbold said oral arguments in that case are tentatively scheduled for March.
More at CharlotteObserver.com.