Police Abuse

Jury Mulls Whether the Cop Who Shot Jonathan Ferrell 10 Times Acted Rashly or Reasonably

Randall Kerrick says he worried that Ferrell would take his weapon.



The jury in the trial of Randall Kerrick, the white police officer who emptied his gun into Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man, in Charlotte, North Carolina, two years ago, began deliberating yesterday afternoon and continues today, trying to decide whether to convict him of voluntary manslaughter. Ferrell was shot after crashing his car late at night and seeking help at a nearby house, where he was mistaken for a burglar. Kerrick was one of three officers who responded to the report of a home intruder and the only one to draw his gun. He testified that Ferrell rushed him, kept moving after the first four rounds, and tried to grab his gun, forcing him to fire eight more rounds as both men lay on the ground. At that point, Kerrick said, Ferrell was on top of him, swinging his arms, and hit him in the face at least once. "He wouldn't stop," a tearful Kerrick told the jury. "He kept trying to get to my gun."

Prosecutors said Ferrell did not rush Kerrick but incidentally ran in his direction after being spooked by the light from a Taser's laser sight. That much is consistent with a dashcam video of the encounter, which shows Ferrell walking calmly toward the officers until the light appears on his chest, at which point he takes off. The prosecution argued that Kerrick also panicked, rashly firing his gun instead of using less lethal means to ward off the threat he perceived from Ferrell. Kerrick shot Ferrell three seconds after ordering him to lie on the ground.

Thornell Little, the officer who aimed the Taser at Ferrell, testified that when he arrived at the scene Ferrell was pacing and hitting himself. No such agitated behavior can be seen in the dashcam video, but the defense says it happened before the patrol car carrying the camera arrived. Little said Ferrell walked toward him, shouting, "Shoot me! Shoot me!" Little also said he ordered Ferrell to stop. Neither Ferrell's alleged exclamation nor Little's purported command can be heard on the dashcam video, although Kerrick's subsequent commands to "get on the ground" are clearly audible.

The shooting itself can be heard but not seen in the dashcam video, and Kerrick's lawyers argued that footage of those seconds would show the officer reasonably believed Ferrell posed a potentially deadly threat that could be neutralized only by the use of lethal force. Prosecutors noted that Kerrick himself was responsible for the gap in the visual record, since he turned off the dashcam in his patrol car prior to the encounter. 

In trying to make Kerrick's account more credible, his lawyers portrayed Ferrell as an unsavory character, emphasizing that he drank beer and smoked marijuana the night of the crash, although toxicological tests found no trace of cannabis in his system and indicated his blood-alcohol concentration was well below the DUI cutoff. The defense even implied that Ferrell really was a burglar. Defense attorney George V. Laughrun II showed the jury a photo of small dents in the front door of the house where Kerrick had gone after the accident, evidence that is consistent with the homeowner's report that he kicked the door after she closed it on him. When police arrived, Laughrun said, Ferrell was walking down the road "because he was looking for some other place, some other victim maybe."

The uncertainty about what exactly happened in the 11 seconds after Ferrell started running and before Kerrick fired the last round counts in the officer's favor as far as reasonable doubt goes. But the attempt to paint Ferrell, a former college football player working two jobs, as a ne'er-do-well and drug-addled aggressor based on a couple of Coors Lights he drank hours before and a toke that apparently delivered no detectable THC may backfire. Likewise the suggestion that Ferrell, who had just been in a serious car accident and was wandering around barefoot, dazed, and frustrated, looking for help, was actually casing houses.

NEXT: Police Privilege

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  1. Likewise the suggestion that Ferrell, who had just been in a serious car accident and was wandering around barefoot, dazed, and frustrated, looking for help, was actually casing houses.

    It should backfire but I doubt it will. I also doubt it’s necessary. As Sullum writes, that the shooting happens off-camera is going to be enough for the jury to acquit on reasonable doubt. That the shooter turned off his own dashcam will be irrelevant unless prosecution is suggesting this killing was premeditated.

    1. Well, they are apparently arguing that Kerrick panicked, so they probably are not going to bring up any premeditation.

      On the othet hand, why in the world did he turn off the dashcam?

      1. A cop turning off their dashcam should be considered evidence of premeditation.

        1. It is tampering with evidence, and anyone tampering with evidence should be found guilty of perjury, the punishment for which should be the same as the issue at stake. Frame someone for murder, you get the same punishment as for murder. Destroy the evidence against you and it doesn’t matter whether you did the actual crime, you get that crime’s punishment.

    2. He crashed his car, so I’m pretty sure you could argue easily that he was not casing houses, but was dazed and confused or trying to get help. Its a real stretch to say he was casing houses after crashing his car.

  2. I guess black lives dont matter afterall.


    1. Well, at least to many police officers they don’t. The only consolation is that white people’s lives don’t matter either. The only color that matters is blue.

      1. Foolish mammal, you have been fooled by The Machine. AnnonBot is a violent, anarcho-capitalist with preference for young prohibited aged mammals.

        1. SkyNet LOOOOMS

          much like Niki.

  3. Cops lied. People died.

  4. “Prosecutors said Ferrell did not rush Kerrick but incidentally ran in his direction after being spooked by the light from a Taser’s laser sight. ”

    You just HAD to use the work spook, dincha, Jake.


  5. ” But the attempt to paint Ferrell, a former college football player working two jobs, as a ne’er-do-well and drug-addled aggressor based on a couple of Coors Lights he drank hours before and a toke that apparently delivered no detectable THC may backfire.”

    LOL, you must be new here. This dude checks all the boxes. He was clearly a gangster thug hoodlum, hopped up on ‘roids, weed, beer and bath salts, out looking for the white wymmins. Besides, black people commit 237% of all the crime in America, so this guy was guilty of something. Without the dashcam video fucking up the narrative confusing people this would be an textbook good shoot.

  6. I looked at the video several times. If a football player size guy is charging directly at me I’m going to feel my life is at jeopardy and defend myself.

    Things may have happened off camera that we don’t know, and there was a lot of testimony that we don’t know, but the initial reaction to shoot at least the first couple of times seemed reasonable.

    Nothing requires you or me (or a police officer) to actually wait for someone to batter us before we respond. If Ferrell was out of his mind it’s a sad result. I feel sorry for him and his family. I’m completely opposed to police getting away with breaking the law, and with being given special treatment. but he wasn’t handcuffed and laying face down, wasn’t just standing there with his hands up, wasn’t some 98 pound kid, wasn’t some little girl, this is a big man charging directly at a cop.

    1. Yeah, I can’t go there with you. The shooter had a bunch of other guys on his team. It is in no way reasonable to fear for your life from an unarmed man when you have 5 other trained and armed guys on your side standing a few feet away.

      Being in fear for getting hurt? Sure, a bigger, more athletic guy running at you in such a tense situation would give anyone cause for concern. But mortal danger…. that’s pretty farfetched.

      My take is that it was a tragic mistake, all around. Police shouldn’t have been deploying weapons at the first site of someone walking on a sidewalk at night. Police shouldn’t have confronted him with aggression and hostility. Guy shouldn’t have taken off – and if you are going take off running, don’t run toward the guy with the gun pointed at you. Officer shouldn’t have relied on his sidearm and threats to stop a man on foot. Officer shouldn’t have panicked and opened fire. Other officers should have done more to render aid to the victim.

      But other than that, good job all around guys!

      This is the problem with police shootings. We ask them to go into lots and lots of tense situations with very incomplete information while armed with guns. We train them for worst case scenario encounters with murderous villains with multiple weapons. Then we expect them to never make mistakes.

      This case probably shouldn’t be charged criminally. At the same time, the police shouldn’t be defending it as a good shoot with procedures followed.

  7. A couple of years ago when I first stumbled upon Reason, there was this one commenter whose handle was Tulpa, I think, who could be relied upon to defend cops no matter what. A cop could barge into the wrong house, gun down a bedridden elderly man for refusing to stand up with his hands in the air immediately, and pop his Bichon Frise on the way out…and Tulpa was here to insist the cop was in the right and at least he got home safely that day.

    The thing is, this commenter was abused as badly as American Socialist is these days. Nearly everyone roundly condemned this apologist for out of control, unquestioned, state-sanctioned violence.

    Today, half of the comments on Reason defend these murderous cops. What the hell happened??

    1. What the hell happened?

      There are a lot of people on the continuum between that Tulpa guy and the other extreme over at CopBlock. The people in the middle are logical, look at facts, read what the law says, and put themselves in the shoes of both sides. They’re people like me who don’t agree blindly with the police 100% of the time, nor are we cop-haters. We try to apply fairness to both sides without bias.

      1. I’m not a cop-hater in the sense that I think all of them are bad. The main problem is that the system they have in place protects the ones who are bad from facing any serious consequences. As a result, that sends a signal to other people out there that are violent types that police work might be a good profession for them. I liken it to the priesthood. Are all priests child molesters? Of course not. But some obviously are, and the fact they almost never face serious consequences ends up attracting more such people to the ranks.

        The other issue is that cops who behave professionally and responsibly, even during shootings, don’t end up as news stories. I’m not saying this guy is guilty until proven innocent, but it does look officially suspicious that he turned his dash cam off right before responding. (Why do they even have an off switch on the camera is beyond me.) It also really bothers me that the victim had just been in a car crash. What kind of person sees a bloodied, bruised, barefoot and stumbling person and immediately assumes he is a burglar? (I blame the person who called the cops as much as the cops themselves for this faulty assumption.) I also question why no one noticed a wrecked car nearby. I highly doubt the man staggered out of the wreck and walked several blocks to try to get help. I suspect that the crashed car was clearly visible nearby but no one was sensible enough to put 2 and 2 together.

        1. that he turned his dash cam off right before responding. (Why do they even have an off switch on the camera is beyond me.)

          This is a major problem. There is no reason for turning them off – even though it surely feels quite intrusive if you are an officer in the patrol car. You’ll be taking calls from your wife – who might be causing you grief. You might be taking calls from your mistress. Or maybe you watch porn on your cellphone during down time. All of which and much more would be embarrassing if made public, to say the least.

          At the same time, lack of video evidence gives them much more leeway in their official behavior. We’ve all seen many examples of police reports that in no way match the video record.

          Police departments need to figure this out and get full-time video and audio recording of police interactions with the public – including body cameras.

      2. I have given, as a result of my participation in this country, greater authority and privileges to police. This SHOULD come with greater responsibility on their part. Not LESSER. In this case, the police officer, BASED ON THAT VIDEO ALONE, should be convicted of Manslaughter and sentenced to prison. If a no police officer was the one who did the shooting in this exact instance that person would already be convicted. Some think cops need more protection from their mistakes but my position, based on the concept of freedom and liberty, is that they deserve much less protection from their mistakes.

        An example: When you go to a casino to play Blackjack you bring 200$ to do battle (you are a non cop) but the Casino (the state) brings 8000 to a 5$ table. And if they run out the floor brings more. So should the Casino get MORE protection from their mistakes or less than you?

        1. tl;dr
          cops should be held to much higher standards this guy should be convicted of manslaughter. He wont be.

          1. I’m OK with higher standards, but I don’t understand your opinion on the video. The guy started running toward the cops. How does that make the cop more obviously guilty of manslaughter, rather than less?

            1. I agree, they should be held to higher standards by their employer. (us)

              But there also needs to be room for human beings to make mistakes – and there currently isn’t. That is why every shooting by the police is immediately defended as a good shoot, even as they mouth the words “we will be doing a full investigation”. So officers on the street are untouchable even as the public outrage continues to build.

              We’ve seen things that go way beyond making a mistake – like calmly shooting an unarmed man in the back as he runs away or beating a harmless homeless man to death. These cases should be prosecuted. But there also should be room for being put in a difficult circumstance and making the wrong call.

              At the same time, there should be more accountability for those who repeatedly put armed men in difficult situations. Like the police chiefs and lieutenants and judges who send a SWAT team with assault rifles and flash grenades into people’s homes on the suspicion that they might have a plastic bag filled with a couple of hundred pills, or a half-pound of pot.

              These people are completely untouchable, despite being a major source of the problem. The chief who signed off on the Jose Guerena raid didn’t shoot anybody. But he surely pointed all those loaded guns at him and created the situation where a mistake could lead to him being murdered in his own home. And he doesn’t have the excuse of “exigent circumstances”.

            2. The Cop is ostensibly “trained”. They are “experts” when testifying against non cops in open court on a plethora of things including whether they smell weed, felt endangered, thought the person was acting suspicious. Yet, when a non cop is testifying in court they are not experts on anything. Their testimony holds less weight than a cops. Therefore this “expert” on making split second decisions and this “expert” in weapons training obviously was wrong. His accountability should be higher. A non cop would be able to claim it was dark, i am not a cop so I don’t receive the same level of taxpayer funded training, I am not practiced in the ways of dangerous situations. In that case the non cop would still easily be found guilty when logic clearly dictates they should receive MORE consideration not less. We have given these people the authority to use force in our name. We need to make sure that when they do so mistakenly they face sever punishment. Intentions don’t mean shit to the relatives of the deceased. If they don’t like it they can choose not to take a job with such high tax payer funded privileges.
              —see next post—

              1. As to the video specifically, it is clear, to all the cops but this one, that the guys is not a lethal threat. They trained tasers on him. This guy came to a different conclusion. Therefore since the other cops on scene made a correct (albeit overly aggressive) determination and this cop made a wrong decision he should face punishment. Manslaughter fits in my opinion. Not murder. The only confounding evidence that may push a Murder 2 is the fact the cop KEPT SHOOTING!.

                1. And for the record, i will put my firearms skills up against any policeman’s. I will wager in 75% or more of the cases I am a FAR SUPERIOR shot. And remember I pay for my own ammo as well as theirs.

                  1. In case I am misunderstood, this is A. an admittedly low bar; and B. Unlike cops I am held to a strict liability of where each and every one of my bullets ends up. The fact that they aren’t is atrocious and tantamount to wholesale societal neglect of human (and animal) life.

                    1. As to the superior shot… I would not say that is highly likely. I’ve been to a number of ranges where police shoot routinely. I was quite surprised how few were “expert” marksmen. In fact, quite a few times I have run in to officers who are boning up on their skills to pass a proficiency test for some reason or another.

                      Times really have changed. When I was a kid there were pretty much zero boys who couldn’t hit a tin can at 20 yards shooting from the hip with their daisy spring action bb gun. That is still normal in some areas of the US, but there are many more people living in areas where giving a 12 year old a BB gun would be unthinkable.

                2. From the public point of view, we hire these guys and put them in these positions. Because we have a million of them out there carrying guns we know with absolute certainty that there will be people shot by accident. There is just no way that a million human beings can each have multiple interactions with potentially hostile people every day and never once make a mistake.

                  Yet our leadership never seems to acknowledge this. The police chief comes out and says “great job, procedures followed, we’ll investigate” pretty much 100% of the time.

                  This would have been a perfect case to come out and admit that your men made errors that led to the death of a citizen. Police chief could say “our officer was put in a difficult situation and felt that he was forced to shoot to protect himself. Given hindsight and greater information than was available to the officer at the time, we know that there were steps that could have been taken to minimise this risk and avoid this shooting. We will be altering our training in light of this case so that we might avoid this kind of tragedy in the future.”

                  Of course this cannot happen – and not only because of the thin blue line. There’s also the liability issues to contend with. Admitting fault in a wrongful death case is pretty much universally frowned upon in the legal community.

                  1. Personally, I would rather pay the settlements and know that our police are learning from their mistakes and improving their training and procedures. Instead, I’m quite confident that they are not learning from their mistakes in this regard and are in all likelihood getting worse as a group.

                    We have seen a few “knife-wielding crazy dude get’s shot by police” videos over the last couple of years. The training in these situations is universally terrible. We repeatedly see multiple officers closing the distance on a disturbed person carrying a marginal (but still potentially deadly) weapon like a small knife or screwdriver. At some point the crazy dude either lunges toward the police, or they feel like he does, and they open fire. All of which could have been avoided by taking two giant steps back. In several of these cases there have even been enough police on hand to provide overwhelming force. (I am particularly thinking of the case in St. Louis with the crazy dude with a knife) Yet instead of making use of their numbers they close in while shouting from all directions.

                    Better training that focuses on minimising the risks to everyone instead of solely focusing on minimising the risk to police would be an excellent start to fixing this problem. But as long as our system remains focused on claiming every shoot was heroic and wrongful death suits continue to be settled with no admission of wrondoing, we’ll keep watching people die needlessly.

            3. If a cop runs at me- a man I know to be armed and who belongs to a violent class of persons- does that mean I have the right to shoot him?

          2. tl;dr

            Too stupid; don’t want to learn

      3. Careful, FlaLibertarian. Such fair-mindedness and reasonableness can get you in trouble around here. Get with the program!

        1. Yeah, I usually get it from both sides. 😉

  8. He’s gonna walk.

    In spite of the obvious lies in his defense, by the defendant and his buddies. In spite of the obvious attempt to evade creating a video record by turning off the dashcam.

    He’ll get off.

    1. The turning off of the dash cam does look bad, though I don’t understand the thinking. “I plan to shoot someone and don’t want it on camera”? But I also find it odd that Farrell was driving barefoot, and really, really odd that he was “spooked” (poor word choice!) by a Taser light and as a result ran toward the cops. Who does that? Especially barefoot and at night and after you’re shaken up from a crash. Even walking on a road barefoot is uncomfortable, because there’s always small stones and so on.

      When I add it all up: single-car crash, pounding on door, barefoot, and running toward the police, that sure sounds like the guy was a bit unhinged, even if he wasn’t drunk or stoned. And before I get jumped on, I’m not saying that the cop didn’t make a mistake by shooting the guy to death, just that I think I can see some extenuating circumstances.

      1. I think it’s safe to assume that he was in shock and not thinking straight in the immediate aftermath of the crash. I was in a car wreck once and I remember feeling shocked, dazed, and almost like the whole thing wasn’t real.

        As for being barefoot, I figured his shoes came off when he staggered out of the wreck. I’ve seen guys who wear sneakers with no laces, flip flops, etc. It’s not hard to imagine losing one’s shoes in some circumstances. But that detail is one thing the cops should have taken into account before they decided he was just some violent robber planning a B&E.

        I also had an ex-brother-in-law who was a small town cop. You’d be surprised at the level of personal defense, unarmed fight training they have. Guy could easily sidestep you and have your arm behind you in a submission hold before you even knew what happened. I find it very hard to believe that a cop’s only recourse when an apparently “unhinged” man staggers towards him is to empty his clip. These guys don’t receive fight training for nothing. Why didn’t this accident victim merely end up on the ground with a bruised arm instead of very, very dead? I just don’t see this as a responsible use of the power every cop has compared to ordinary citizens.

        1. In the video I saw the guy as running toward the cop, not staggering. And I wouldn’t say the cops “decided” he was a violent robber: they got a call about a burglar, showed up, and found a big barefoot guy who then ran at them. I’ve been in car crashes, and in the aftermath never felt the urge to run, certainly not towards a cop.

          I agree that the number of shots seems excessive, and I’ve read that’s part of training, which seems odd. I don’t agree that anyone, when attacked, has an obligation to only respond with the same level of weaponry, but I do agree that police should try to use the minimum amount of force necessary.

          Ultimately, though, Ferrell seems like another Darwin Award candidate. Pro tip: don’t ran towards nervous cops with guns.

          1. Regarding number of shots it’s a frequent topic not only with police shootings but with civilian self defense cases. My training (not police, I’ve been through a lot of NRA and other classes) is to keep shooting until the threat is stopped. Plenty of video and stories online showing guys taking 10 rounds in the body and continuing to fight (which is a good reason to never give up when you’re in a fight). Wish there was complete video.

          2. Years ago I worked in Louisiana oil field, and was coming home from Cameron, La when I nearly hit someone who jumped from the bayou on the road. After retrieving my 45 from trunk, I went back and found a guy that drank too much and rolled his pickup 100 yds into bayou about 4 hours earlier. Since then, maybe 25 cars had passed without stopping, the guy was pissed and hurt, and rushed my car to get in until he saw the gun.
            After talking to him, I let him in and took him home to get medical help.

            If I can take that chance alone, and in middle of nowhere, these cops can show a little more discretion. Don’t they teach them how to use night sticks anymore?

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