The family of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed North Carolina man shot and killed by police shortly after he dragged himself from a violent car crash and sought help from neighbors, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
The lawsuit comes after autopsy results show that most of the bullets that hit Ferrell the night he was killed struck him with a downward trajectory, suggesting that he may have been on his knees or on the ground. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall Kerrick fired a dozen shots at him, according to the family.
Ferrell was hit with 10 of those bullets and died on that early morning last September in Charlotte, not long after crashing his car along a dark, rural road.
“He was only seeking help,” Ferrell’s mother, Georgia, said during a press-conference on Tuesday morning, a day after the lawsuit was filed in North Carolina Superior Court. “I don’t know if it will bring peace,” she said of the lawsuit, “but I pray that they don’t kill no one else's child.”
The lawsuit names Kerrick, Police Chief Rodney Monroe, the city and county as defendants. In filing the suit, the family is seeking monetary damages, but their attorneys say they also plan to use their subpoena power to force the department to hand over evidence and records that have been kept from the family, including dash-cam video that captures much of the shooting.
Kerrick, 28, was arrested within a day of the shooting and charged with voluntary manslaughter. State prosecutors, who customarily handle cases in which police officers are arrested, said the case will go to a grand jury later this month. Kerrick, who joined the force in 2011, is on unpaid leave as he awaits trial.
Christopher Chestnut, one of the family’s attorneys, called Ferrell’s killing a “grisly murder,” by a rogue, improperly trained officer who should never have been given the public’s trust, let alone a gun and a badge.
“We have unmitigated respect for law enforcement,” Chestnut said during Tuesday’s press conference. “But we also have an unrelenting, passionate duty to root out cowards who use a badge as an excuse for cold blooded murder.”
In the days after the shooting, Kerrick’s defense attorney said Kerrick was an innocent man and acted appropriately the night of the killing.
“We remain committed to our client and his rights and to procedural due process,” Michael Greene, one of Kerrick’s attorneys, said in a statement emailed to NBC News. “As such, we will try the case in a court of law.”
Prior to becoming an officer, Kerrick was employed as an animal control officer, according to reports and the Ferrell family’s lawsuit.
A couple years before his death, Ferrell, 24, was a member of the Florida A&M University football team. He had moved to Charlotte with his fiancée and high school sweetheart just about a year before the shooting. Ferrell’s family said he had plans of going back to school and took various jobs in retail to support those plans.
Ferrell would never fulfill those dreams. The episode that led to his death was as tragic as it was bizarre. According to the wrongful death suit, Ferrell met with a group of friends and co-workers at a restaurant. At some point after dropping one of his friends off at home at the end of the night, his car slid off the road and crashed in an embankment along a woody stretch of Reedy Creek Road. Toxicology reports would later show that Ferrell had alcohol in his system, but that his blood-level was below the legal limit for driving, according to NBC News.
It was just before 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 14, and Ferrell pulled himself from the mangled wreck and sought help from the first house he came across. He found himself a half-mile from the crash site and on the doorstep of Sarah McCartney, a wife and mother of 1-year-old baby who was home alone.
McCartney rushed to the front door, thinking something bad might have happened to her husband. She opened the door, took one look at Ferrell and slammed the door shut. McCartney called 911, and through tears told a dispatcher that a man was trying to break in and rob her and that she couldn’t find any of her husband’s guns.
“Oh my God,” McCartney can be heard pleading on a recording of the 911 call made the night of the shooting. “He’s in the front yard yelling.”
“I need help,” she said, crying.
Minutes later, officers arrived and soon thereafter, Ferrell was dead.
Three officers arrived at McCartney’s home. Police have said that Ferrell then ran toward the officers. One of the officers then fired a Taser at Ferrell. Then, moments later, Kerrick fired on the young man.
Chestnut said the unreleased dash-cam video shows that Ferrell, who was unarmed, did nothing to warrant lethal force. According to the suit, Ferrell never behaved in a way that, by the department’s standards for the use of lethal force, justified the killing. The suit alleges a series of missteps by Kerrick leading up to the killing, including Kerrick not identifying himself to Ferrell as a police officer.
Chestnut said that the commands given by the officers were not timely, and that Ferrell had little time to react before being sprayed with gunfire.
Chestnut said Ferrell is seen on the video proceeding quickly toward the officer, not running from them as you might expect a suspected burglar to do. He said there was no stop order and that just moments after approaching them two lasers appeared on his chest, possibly from the Taster. And then came gunshots. Four came in rapid succession before a pause. Then six more shots before another pause, then the final two.
Ferrell was struck with eight bullets to the chest, one to the abdomen and one to the arm, according to the suit.
“That’s not a scared officer, that’s someone who intends to kill,” Chestnut said.