Cop Shoots Accident Victim and Is Quickly Charged; Which Part Is More Amazing?

Florida A&MFlorida A&MWhat does it take for a cop to face criminal charges after killing an unarmed man? A North Carolina case promises to provide at least one answer. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell early Saturday morning, and by the end of the day he was charged with voluntary manslaughter. 

Kerrick and two other officers responded to a report of an attempted break-in at a house on Reedy Creek Road in northeastern Mecklenburg County around 2:30 a.m. Saturday. They encountered Ferrell near the house, and he ran toward them. Feeling threatened, Officer Thornell Little fired a Taser at Ferrell. When Ferrell continued to approach, Kerrick fired several rounds at him.

Unbeknown to the officers at that point, Ferrell had crashed his car into an embankment about half a mile from the house and was seeking help when the woman who called police mistook him for a burglar. She said when she heard someone knocking on her door, she initially thought it was her husband coming home late from work. When she opened the door and saw a stranger instead, she became alarmed, closed the door, and called the police. Ferrell evidently had climbed out the rear window of his badly damaged car and made his way to the nearest house. Having no luck there, he probably was relieved to see the officers.

According to a police department statement issued late on Saturday, "Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter." Although the initial encounter with Ferrell was "appropriate and lawful," police said, "the shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive." City officials declined to discuss the evidence that led detectives to that conclusion.

It will be instructive to see the details of this case as they emerge, since police shootings rarely result in charges and investigations typically take weeks or months. (There still has been no official determination of why Escambia County, Florida, sheriff's deputies shot Roy Middleton in his own driveway on July 27, for instance, although Sheriff David Morgan has defended his officers.) Two experts on police shootings told the Charlotte Observer they had never heard of a case in which charges were brought so quickly. "The only thing I can figure," one said, "is the officer must have made some statement...that really put him in a bind." 

Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Ferrell's family, suggests that the 24-year-old, a former Florida A&M football player who had recently moved to Charlotte with his fiancee, might still be alive if he had been white. “If Mr. Ferrell was not black or brown," he said in an interview with Reuters, "wouldn't they have asked him a few questions before showering him with bullets?"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • entropy||

    When she opened the door and saw a stranger instead, she became alarmed, closed the door, and called the police.

    The first time it was reported even I remember thinking yeah, that totally sounds like a breaking and entering attempt. He knocked.

  • CE||

    ANother example of why you shouldn't call the cops.

  • Loki||

    What, you mean the burlars don't politely knock first where you live?

  • entropy||

    I almost feel like she deserves a slap for filing a false police report or abusing 911 or whatever.

    If she told the cops he was trying to break in when all he did was knock and then leave when she slammed the door in his face, she's partly culpable.

  • sloopyinca||

    There's a reason they're not releasing the 911 tape. She apparently told the police what the man claimed (about an accident), so it's not her fault they only listened to part of her explanation of the incident between her and the victim.

    Police officers are (allegedly) paid to respond cooly and calmly in situations where "civilians" might jump to conclusions and panic. Women awoken by strangers at 2:30 in the morning are not.

  • AlmightyJB||

    She was right to call 911.

  • John Thacker||

    Well, lets not jump to conclusions until that tape is revealed. It could actually exonerate her and make the police look even worse.

  • sloopyinca||

    Like I said, John Thacker, there's a reason they're not releasing the 911 tape.

  • Carolynp||

    If we slapped everyone who did some moronic thing, a lot of folks would be running around with handprints. Still, maybe it would be better if they were marked...sort of like "here's your sign".

  • Matrix||

    I'm sure the Police Union will come rushing to this brave officer's rescue, get all charges dropped, have this stricken from his record, and probably make sure he is awarded a medal for his bravery. Also, he might get be awarded some monetary payments for his pain and suffering in enduring this witchhunt!

  • Blinded by the Derp||

    So I need some help here. NC where I am from is a right to work state. There are no labor unions, no teacher unions (with power anyway) and I thought no police or public employee unions there either.

    Are police unions actually in each state?

  • John Thacker||

    There are private sector unions in NC, though they are weak.

    NC has the lowest percentage of public sector employees in unions, since the state constitution actually bans collective bargaining with public sector unions.

  • John Thacker||

    Police Unions are very, very weak in NC, since NC (like Virginia) bans public sector unions from collectively bargaining.

  • Matrix||

    those evil Tea Bagging RETHUGLICAN obstructionists!!

  • John Thacker||

    Who of course hadn't controlled the state government since 1900 (when disenfranchisment was brought in) until last year, as you know. ;)

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Two experts on police shootings told the Charlotte Observer they had never heard of a case in which charges were brought so quickly. "The only thing I can figure," one said, "is the officer must have made some statement...that really put him in a bind."

    He should haver known better than to talk to the cops.

  • Killazontherun||

    In his defense, he was desperate for help. Surely, even the little hearts of policemen can be persuaded to do so in sight of an accident victim. Uhm, I guess not.

  • CE||

    If he had run away, he would have been "fleeing".

  • sloopyinca||

    And if he would have stood still, he would have been "bracing". Either way, it's open season on "civilians".

  • Loki||

    Surely, even the little hearts of policemen can be persuaded to do so in sight of an accident victim.

    He had been in an accident and was clearly in pain. They had to put him down, it was the humane thing to do.

  • sloopyinca||

    Then he's lucky he doesn't live in Merced, CA. Out there, the cops drive injured animals out to their range and shoot at them.

  • Loki||

    The department says officers use discretion and get supervisor approval before taking the animal to the range.

    I "found*" this stray injured animal on the street. Can I go shoot it now?

    *found as in hit it with his car despite seeing it and having plenty of time to stop or avoid it.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Officer Safety! Cops have a right to go home at night! That means shoot first, shoot last, and ask questions maybe.

  • Paul.||

    I'm wondering if the guy was slightly disturbed, in shock or something. Who continues to approach officers after they taze you? I mean, who approaches officers at all if it can be avoided.

  • tarran||

    A violent car crash that can leave a person pretty disoriented and tenuously connected with their surroundings. After my bad cycling accident, I had to be restrained from trying to drive to my old job (I had amnesia and was really disoriented).

    My guess is that this shooting was caught on video, and it was clear that the guy was disoriented, in distress, and that the cops basically gunned him down in fear.

  • wwhorton||

    So, the guy's been in a bad car accident, it's late at night, nothing to indicate one way or the other but it's possible he could have been drinking or intoxicated in some fashion, and may very well have sustained injuries that put him in shock. The cops say he "continued to approach", but I think a reasonable alternative is that he "continued to stagger".

    I mean, I know that if I'd just been in a car accident in the wee hours of the morning such that I had to climb out of a window to escape the car, can't get help from anyone, and all of a sudden cops jump out of a car in the dark and start yelling instructions at me (which, due to injuries, I may or may not be able to hear, much less understand) I'm not 100% certain that I'd be able to realize the danger of the situation and just sit down with my hands on my head.

  • ||

    Do we know they tazed him? Or did they just fire a tazer in his direction in the dark?

  • tarran||

    One article I said is that one guy fired a taser and missed.

    My guess is that they panicked.

  • Loki||

    For people that are supposed to highly trained, highly skilled TOP. MEN. they sure a panicky bunch.

  • sloopyinca||

    Do not attribute to panic what should be attributed to malice.

    There's no panic in these guys. They showed up all jacked up to kill them a burglar (that wasn't trying to burgle anybody), and damn it they got their prey.

  • Loki||

    That's kind of what I was implying. I forgot the /sarc tag.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Given that he had no reason to expect to be tazed, he may not have realized that's what had happened. Obviously, he didn't have much opportunity to consider the matter, and not realizing he was under attack he continued to advance toward the assailant.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    He should have waited to carve the notch on his pistol grip until he got out of the interrogation room.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'm wondering if the guy was slightly disturbed, in shock or something.

    Judging from the photo of his pickup truck, he rolled it at least once, so yeah, that's pretty likely.

  • anon||

    Black man shot in NC: Unlikely conviction of the cop. Although I am impressed to see the cop was charged so quickly.

  • Killazontherun||

    Is there something particular about racism in my state you would care to share? I've traveled widely, and the gist of my experience is we are far tamer in that respect than the rest of the nation.

  • sloopyinca||

    Maybe his computer autocorrected from NY to NC. Because it seems to me that NYPD cops kill black kids without consequence a lot more frequently than the entire state of NC's cops or "civilians" do.

  • Killazontherun||

    You're right, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions there. NYPD, that would make for the most sense.

  • DenverJay||

    Well, you know, over 150 years ago the State was part of the Confederacy, therefore the state simply must be, absolutely has to be, is inconceivable that it would not be, completely racist to the core.

  • Tamfang||

    Killaz, maybe what you really experienced is that racism elsewhere is expressed in ways that you don't see in NC.

  • sloopyinca||

    Well, the comments over at PoliceOne are predictable.

    Ex 1: Holy Freaking Crap. What a shit sandwich. A same day Arrest of the officer? Unless facts we aren't aware of come to light, this does seem like a rush to judgement for political reasons. The officer may be in the wrong, and may deserve admin sanctions, but arrest?

    Ex 2: An unknown person charges, especially at night, and a taser has no effect. Who cares if they are coming out and now saying he was unarmed. Sounds like a 40cal enema was the right call. I would like to see the toxi report. I wonder if it will be herion or meth that shows up possitive.
    The officer should be cleared ASAP

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our fine police officers of America in their own words.

  • anon||

    Oh my god! THEY ARRESTED ONE OF US! Next thing you know, they'll find us guilty of crimes and shit! WE CANNOT TOLERATE THIS!

  • Killazontherun||

    A polite cop is a dead cop.

  • sloopyinca||

    Yeah...but only because his "brothers" won't have his back unless he imposes his will properly against "civilian" "pos's" like us.

  • Killazontherun||

    I recall seeing a home recorded clip of one dressed for his casket. His face was serene, almost human.

  • sloopyinca||

    Then you, my friend, actually did encounter a polite cop.

  • sarcasmic||

    One time a cop picked me up on the side of the road and gave me a ride home. He didn't ask me all kinds of questions and run my ID for warrants and explain to me how he knew I was up to something and he'd get me eventually. He didn't even ask my name. He just saw me walking at night, gave me a quick pat-down for weapons, then a ride home. After he drove off I just stood there bewildered for about ten minutes. I couldn't believe it. Nothing like that had ever happened before, nor since. I may have actually met the mythical "good cop."

  • UnCivilServant||

    Actually, that was the escaped sex offender who stole the cruiser and uniform on his way out of the station.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I know I feel well-served and protected by a pack of heavily-armed, blood-thirsty chickenshits.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    An unknown person charges, especially at night, and a taser has no effect.

    HE WAS COMING RIGHT AT THEM!

  • Loki||

    I wonder if he was charged because he forgot to yell "He's coming right for us!" while his partner shouted self contradictory orders at him. IOW, I'm guessing procedures weren't followed.

  • Jordan||

    There must be some even more egregious details that we're not seeing, since it seems like this would be much easier to sweep under the rug than most other police murders.

    "HE CHARGED AT ME AND IT WAS DARK AND HE REACHED IN HIS WAISTBAND AND MAH FIREARM DISCHARGED CASE CLOSED"

  • Hyperion||

    “If Mr. Ferrell was not black or brown," he said in an interview with Reuters, "wouldn't they have asked him a few questions before showering him with bullets?"

    I have to disagree with this lawyer. Cops are indiscriminate shooters of anything that moves, be it dogs, humans, or otherwise. As long as it bleeds, they'll shoot at it.

  • sloopyinca||

    Shit, those two women they shot in LA were anything but black. Although they were on a manhunt (apparently with shoot to kill orders) for a black man.

    Same for the surfer dude they shot in OC that day, although that case seems to have likewise been swept under the rug.

  • entropy||

    They also tried to shoot 2 white guys they thought were Dorner.

  • entropy||

    I think if this guy had been white, this shooting would have been statistically less likely but still possible.

  • Louis Cypher||

    Something isn't right here. According to the story:

    They encountered Ferrell near the house, and he ran toward them. Feeling threatened, Officer Thornell Little fired a Taser at Ferrell. When Ferrell continued to approach, Kerrick fired several rounds at him.

    But then they say this:

    Although the initial encounter with Ferrell was "appropriate and lawful," police said, "the shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive."

    It can't be both. Either the initial encounter was appropriate or it wasn't. And from the story it seems that he shot immediately after he tried the taser. Have to wait until more info comes out. But the system seems to be working. Too bad this was posted as late as it is as I am off to work.

  • Loki||

    “If Mr. Ferrell was not black or brown," he said in an interview with Reuters, "wouldn't they have asked him a few questions before showering him with bullets?"

    Perhaps, but as long as they still shower him with bullets... EQUALITY!

  • CE||

    Meanwhile, cops in New York shoot two bystanders while trying to apprehend an unarmed man:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new.....-1.1456667

    The suspect is charged with "rioting"? By himself? Also charged with "obstructing governmental administration" -- uh oh.

  • tarran||

    HAve you seen what he did? He was tossing cops like matchsticks!

  • sloopyinca||

    Is a one-man riot even statistically possible? I mean, this isn't a video game, this is real life, right?

  • KPres||

    That guy looks like Mike Tyson and Jamie Foxx had a kid.

  • sloopyinca||

    I recall seeing a home recorded clip of one dressed for his casket. His face was serene, almost human.

    Then I take it he wasn't a Cleveland Browns fan.

  • Dave Krueger||

    Something fishy about this. I don't see any mention of a video. If a cop has been charged, it can only mean there is irrefutable evidence that the story he fabricated won't stand up. I want to see the video.

  • Paul.||

    I kind of agree. In 100,000% of every other cases, copys say X happened, boom, X happened, procedures were followed. Then six months later a grainy cell phone video comes out and the cops offer to settle out of court.

    Something's going on here, some irrefutable evidence that simply CAN NOT be doctored.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm guessing the right person overheard him uttering a racial slur. "Stupid nigger didn't stop so I killed him." or something like that.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I saw this the other day on espn's florida a&m page. Don't recall if they had anymore detail.

  • R C Dean||

    I'm struggling a little with the use of the tazer here. Since when is running up to someone, even a cop, without more (a weapon, shouted threats, something) reason to use force of any kind against them?

  • sarcasmic||

    Well, when the guy doing the running is big, black, doesn't belong in the neighborhood, and it's the middle of the night...

  • DenverJay||

    See, this is what those silly civil libertarians warned about when tasers first came into use. Because the tasers are (usually) non-lethal, any small amount of self restraint that the cops might feel has completely vanished. Instead of trying to reason with someone, just taze him. Instead of wrestling with a suspect, just taze him. Hell it (probably) won't kill him, and they get to shoot someone with something that is kind of like a gun.

  • MasterDarque||

    With friends like the cops who needs enemies

  • Tamfang||

    It's a crime to come to a cop's attention; disability and confusion are sentence enhancers.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement