(Photo: Florida A&M University via Reuters)
A North Carolina police officer who shot to death an unarmed car crash victim has been charged with voluntary manslaughter after his response was determined excessive. The victim's mother, meanwhile, says she "truly forgives" Officer Randall Kerrick for gunning down 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, because she believes that is what God would want her to do.
"You caused a great loss to my heart," Georgia Ferrell said Monday at a news conference, referring to Officer Kerrick. "You took a piece of my heart that never can be put back, but I do forgive you. I truly forgive you and wish you the best with your life and turning it over to God."
Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M University football player, had sought help in an upscale Charlotte, N.C., neighborhood at 2 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 after his car went off a 25 mph-road and crashed into trees.
"The car was so badly damaged that Mr. Ferrell had to climb out a rear window. He staggered up an embankment to the road, knocking on the first door he could find on Reedy Creek Road," The New York Times reported.
Ferrell "viciously" banged on the door of the home, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Moore. A woman opened the door, thinking it was her husband coming home late. After seeing Ferrell, however, she immediately shut the door and called 911.
Chief Moore said he did not believe Ferrell made any threats or tried to rob the woman.
The husband of the unidentified woman said the 24-year-old never asked for help, and that his wife grew scared and concerned for her safety and the safety of their son.
When three Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers finally arrived on the scene, reportedly responding to a breaking and entering concern, Ferrell ran toward them. He was hit with a Taser, but kept approaching officers. That was when Officer Kerrick opened fire, discharging 12 bullets. Ten of the bullets hit Ferrell.
Ferrell, who had moved to Charlotte a year ago to be with his fiance, died at the scene. The former FAMU safety was reportedly working two retail jobs and considering going back to school.
Kerrick, 27, was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. He was promoted in 2011 from the Animal Care & Control Division of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
"Evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick however; the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive and violated (the voluntary manslaughter statute). Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter," reads a police statement.
It adds, "The fact that Officer Kerrick discharged his weapon and that Mr. Ferrell was unarmed were some of the factors included in the decision to charge Officer Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter."
According to the Times, "It was the first time in more than three decades that an officer from the department has been charged in an on-duty shooting. Mr. Ferrell was the sixth person shot by an officer in the department since 2012."
WSOC-TV reported, "It's rare that a police officer faces criminal charges for a shooting while on-duty, and even more rare for the officer to be charged so quickly."
"I do not recall a case that either I've been involved with or that I've even heard of where an officer has been criminally charged the same day as the underlying incident occurred," said Kerrick's attorney Scott Maclatchie, a former police officer who represents officers sued after fatal shootings.
The circumstances surrounding Ferrell's killing have raised questions not only about police training, but also about race. Ferrell was black. Officer Kerrick and the woman who called 911 are white.
According to Chris Chestnut, the attorney representing Ferrell's family, it was the Trayvon Martin case that brought such swift action from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. The 17-year-old black Florida teen was unarmed when he was shot in 2012. His case, according to Chestnut, "was a recipe for what not to do" for law enforcement officials.
Ferrell's mother, Georgia Ferrell, and his brother, Willie Ferrell, traveled from their home in Tallahassee, Fla., to speak with Charlotte officials and local media on Monday.
Willie Ferrell told reporters his older brother was always respectful and "a man of all men."
"There was nothing that was hard for him to do," he said.
Chestnut, with the family at the news conference, called Kerrick's actions "criminal" and said the officer "deserves to be in jail." He added, "The public needs him in jail because he's a threat to public safety."
Chestnut described Ferrell as a "brilliant mind" and an "all-American guy." The lawyer said he would gather more information before deciding on a course of legal action.
Georgia Ferrell told the Times that she believes God wants her to forgive her son's killer. "He took my son from me, but I can only stand here and tell you that I believe God is the one listening to me right now and God would want me to forgive," she said. "If I don't forgive, it will be on me forever."