CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hours after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot an unarmed man, the department made a rare move: It charged the officer with voluntary manslaughter.
Most police departments, including Charlotte, usually take weeks — sometimes months — to complete an investigation of a police shooting. But the decision to quickly charge Randall Kerrick is now drawing sharp criticism from police groups and being followed closely by law enforcement departments across the country.
Critics call the department’s move a rush to judgment and say it will have a chilling effect on officers in the field.
“What it does is it shakes their confidence because, like it or not, most cops like to think their department has their back,” Randy Hagler, president of the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police, told The Associated Press. “That’s not to say the department is going to cover anything up. They just want the department to give them a fair shake. That’s all we ask for. And officers in our community don’t necessarily all feel that way.”
Dan Trelka, police chief in Waterloo, Iowa, said he’s been following the case and warned that filing charges quickly could put officers at risk.
“My concern is we’re going to have an officer — any officer someplace in the country — hesitate when they are justified in taking action and lose their life,” he said.
Police shootings are generally high-profile stories in local communities. And when race is involved they often attract national attention. In Charlotte, the officer charged in the shooting is white; Jonathan Ferrell, the man who was shot and a former Florida A&M football player, is black.
Ferrell’s encounter with police was set in motion at 2:30 a.m. Sept. 14, when his car ran off the entrance road to a suburban neighborhood about 15 miles from downtown Charlotte. After crashing his car into trees, Ferrell kicked out the back window and headed up a hill to the first cluster of houses he could see.
Police said Ferrell knocked on a door seeking help. The woman inside called 911, thinking he was trying to break into her home.
Kerrick and two other officers responded to the call. They found Ferrell on a road that leads only to the neighborhood’s pool. Ferrell ran toward the officers, who tried to stop him with a Taser. Police said he continued to run toward them and Kerrick fired 12 shots, hitting Ferrell with all but two. Ferrell died at the scene.
At first, Kerrick — who has been with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police since April 2011 — and the two other officers at the scene were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation probe into the shooting.
But later that day, Kerrick, 27, was charged with voluntary manslaughter and released on $50,000 bond.
Police Chief Rodney Monroe said that while Ferrell did advance on Kerrick, the shooting was excessive. Monroe said the department’s investigation showed the officer didn’t have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.
Kerrick’s attorneys said the shooting was justified because Ferrell didn’t obey verbal commands to stop. But the attorney for Ferrell’s family said the shots were fired in such close proximity that they never gave Ferrell a chance to respond.
Civil rights leader have praised the police for quickly filing charges. Ferrell’s family said the 24-year-old moved to Charlotte about a year ago to be with his fiancee and was working two jobs. He wanted to go back to school to be an automotive engineer, they said. He had no criminal record.