CHARLOTTE — Over and over in this deeply uneasy city, as people talked about Tuesday’s fatal shooting of a black man by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, another name kept coming up: Jonathan Ferrell.
Ferrell was 24 when he was shot and killed in 2013 by an officer who then was charged, in one of the few cases where the death actually resulted in an arrest or indictment. Last summer, a jury deadlocked on the charges of excessive force, and North Carolina’s district attorney has declined to try former officer Randall Kerrick again.
Ferrell’s family and the city of Charlotte settled a lawsuit stemming from the shooting for a reported $2.25 million.
But Jibril Hough, a local activist who organized protests during Kerrick’s trial, said the violent overnight demonstrations stemmed from lingering frustrations over Ferrell’s death
“What you’re seeing is people have been put in that situation for so long and they’re tired of talking,” said Hough, who served on a police advisory committee to improve the department’s relationship with the community. “They’re tired of talking and talking and candlelight vigils and dialogue and nothing getting done.”
The protests also stemmed from the frustration over the deadlocked jury: Although most jurors voted to acquit the officer, four had voted to convict him, and after a judge declared a retrial, the state said it would not seek another trial.
“I think what we went through with Kerrick here in Charlotte, even though it wasn’t as explosive, I think that weathered on us,” Hough said. “What happens is that nine times out of 10, the cop will get off. He’ll get paid leave. He’ll get early retirement. He’ll basically get paid for the killing. Nothing is being done to really change anything.”
He added: “I don’t believe in busting windows, but you have to understand that there’s a boiling point and when people get to that point, they’re acting that way because of the situation they’ve been put in.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Uneven Justice,” a Washington Post story about disparities in how courts award settlements in officer-involved shooting cases, originally ran last November. One of the cases it examined was Jonathan Ferrell’s. In light of the protests in Charlotte, we are revisiting his story here:
Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former college football star who was soon to be married and working two jobs, had just dropped off a friend early on the morning of Sept. 14, 2013. As he drove out of the suburban Charlotte neighborhood known as Bradfield Farms, Ferrell lost control of his Toyota Camry on a curve, skidded and crashed into a stand of trees.
The car was totaled. Ferrell couldn’t open the doors. He crawled out the broken rear windshield and went looking for help. Bleeding, he knocked on the door of Sarah McCartney, then 32. It was close to 2:30 in the morning.
McCartney opened the door, expecting to see her husband, a nurse, returning from the late shift. Instead, she saw Ferrell. She slammed the door, dialed 911 and activated the house alarm system. The front lawn was bathed in floodlights.
Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10 times by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick.
“There’s a guy breaking in my front door,” McCartney told the 911 dispatcher, saying she was alone with her baby boy.
“Have you seen this person?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, he’s a black man.”
“You say he’s a black male?”
“Yes. Oh, my God,” McCartney said. “Please hurry.”
Eleven minutes later, three officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department arrived. Two were African American, and one was white: Randall “Wes” Kerrick, a former animal control officer on the force for 23 months.
A police cruiser dash cam shows Ferrell walking toward the cruiser at 2:47 a.m. One officer fired his Taser but missed. Ferrell started to run into the darkness, toward Kerrick, the only officer who had pulled his firearm. Ferrell’s hands were visible and empty before leaving the frame of the dash cam. The recorder picked up the voice of an officer, yelling: “Get on the ground!”
Twelve shots ring out, the final round fired 19 seconds after Ferrell first appeared on camera. Ten struck Ferrell, most hitting him in his chest. Ferrell, the designated driver for his friends that night, was not drunk, toxicology tests later showed. He died at the scene, his hands cuffed behind his back.
After then-Police Chief Rodney Monroe viewed the footage and read officers’ statements, he ordered Kerrick arrested, saying his officer “did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during the encounter.” A grand jury indicted Kerrick on felony manslaughter charges.
It was another case of a white officer shooting an unarmed black man. The Ferrell family sued, and the city of Charlotte quickly decided to settle. The city may wind up paying far more in civil penalties if Kerrick went to trial and was convicted.
For the rest of the story, head here. Hawkins reported from Washington.