Charlotte-Mecklenburg police released more information Tuesday about Officer Randall Kerrick’s killing of unarmed 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, and all indications are that the department is handling the case appropriately so far.
Police charged Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter less than 24 hours after he fatally shot Ferrell while responding to a call of a possible burglary early Saturday morning.
Police Chief Rodney Monroe on Tuesday described to the Observer editorial board what police say happened, based on a video of the incident and interviews with Kerrick and the two other officers who were there.
Ferrell, who had crashed his car in northeast Charlotte around 2:30 a.m. before knocking on the door of a nearby house, did not appear to be running to the officers for help as some have speculated, Monroe said. Ferrell did not talk to police. He walked toward the officers before running past one officer and toward Kerrick. The officers told Ferrell to stop but he didn’t, and one officer shot a Taser but missed, Monroe said.
Ferrell was about two feet away when Kerrick began shooting him 10 times, all in the torso, Monroe said. The video shows Ferrell’s hands and that he was clearly unarmed, the chief said.
Monroe said that while the 12 shots Kerrick fired were excessive, even the first shot was unwarranted. Ferrell’s failure to stop approaching the officers does not by itself justify Kerrick’s response, Monroe said.
“We have people charging at us everyday; we get in fights everyday, but at that point we’re not justified in using deadly force,” Monroe told the editorial board. “Sometimes we have to put up our hands and use our nightstick and other things and sometimes just retreat to handle the situation and it can’t automatically result in use of deadly force.”
One of Kerrick’s defense lawyers said Tuesday the shooting was justified but did not go into specifics.
The speed with which Kerrick was charged is notable, but Monroe said the same process was followed as in all police shootings. In each case, CMPD’s homicide unit investigates and determines within 24 hours whether there’s probable cause to press criminal charges. That determination was made just as quickly in other recent police shootings, Monroe said, but this was the first one in which they decided charges were warranted.
Some activists are suggesting that Kerrick is getting favorable treatment in being charged with voluntary manslaughter rather than second-degree murder. Monroe argues, though, that there was no evidence of malice on Kerrick’s part. The officer used bad judgment and excessive force in defending himself, but did not have any premeditation, Monroe said.
It’s not clear whether this situation was isolated or whether it reflects any systemic failings within CMPD. Police should determine, for themselves and the public, whether there are any improvements in officer training that could help the department avoid future shootings like this one. Monroe said the department is continually working to improve its use-of-force training and policies, and that a review team will use this case to see if there are any systemic issues that need correcting.
That’s good. In the meantime, a community and two families are sorting through a needless tragedy. A number of questions about the case remain unanswered. We applaud CMPD’s candor so far and believe it can engender more trust with the public by being as transparent as possible going forward.