Randall Kerrick, a 27-year-old Charlotte police officer, has been axed from the force and charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old car crash survivor. Following the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, the city's methods for training its officers, specifically the proper ways of dealing with potential suspects, is being criticized by the Ferrell family and its attorney, as well as the NAACP and ACLU. The fatal shooting will also doubtlessly add impetus to efforts to reform the city's toothless citizens' review board.
Jonathan Ferrell, a former college football player holding down two jobs in Charlotte, ran off the road and into an embankment in northeast Mecklenburg County around 2 a.m. Saturday. Ferrell climbed out of his car's rear window, went to a house about a half-mile away and banged on the door for help. The woman who lives there was frightened, thought Ferrell was a robber, and called 911. Three officers responded, and Ferrell ran toward them. Apparently freaked out by the sight of a one man running toward them (three cops, one guy with no visible weapon - think about it), one of the lawmen fired a Taser at Ferrell, which missed. As Ferrell kept running toward the police officers, Kerrick fired several rounds into Ferrell, who died at the scene. Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter 19 hours later, an extraordinarily short time compared to that of most police internal investigations.
Although Kerrick's criminal charges came at lightning speed, police chief Rodney Monroe used language at a press briefing which seemed designed to portray Ferrell as a threatening figure. According to Monroe, Ferrell "pounded viciously" on the woman's front door, and he "charged at" the officers. How does someone pound a door "viciously"? Shouldn't that be "vigorously," or perhaps "forcefully"? Ferrell would have had to use a sledgehammer or battering ram to qualify for vicious treatment of a door, it seems to me. Plus, Monroe's description of Ferrell "charging at" the officers seems a bit much, considering that Ferrell had just been in a bad auto accident and was searching for help.
But let's say Ferrell was indeed charging at the three officers. Are Tasers always the first choice these days? Is a potentially fatal electric shock really necessary when there are three officers present and only one "suspect"? If so, that's a pathetic excuse for professional police work. And never mind emptying a gun into an unarmed person in the same situation; that's what most people call murder.
The super-quick manslaughter charge for Kerrick - on top of the fact that neither of the other officers used a gun - is probably an indication that city officials realize they're in deep shit in this particular case and are trying to minimize their liability. A quick settlement offer to the family wouldn't exactly be a surprise either. The family's attorney, Christopher Chestnut, who specializes in wrongful death lawsuits, told Reuters news agency that he wonders if race played a part in the decision to shoot Ferrell. "If Mr. Ferrell was not black or brown, wouldn't they have asked him a few questions before showering him with bullets?" Chestnut asked. That's a very reasonable question to ask, and one to which most of us unfortunately know the answer.