CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A white Charlotte police officer on trial for the on-duty killing of a black man panicked and didn’t identify himself or give any commands before shooting 12 times at the agitated man seeking help in an unfamiliar neighborhood after a car crash, a prosecutor said during opening statements Monday.
Any agitation by Jonathan Ferrell was because of the September 2013 wreck, which was so violent he lost his cellphone and had to kick out a window to escape. He gave officer Randall Kerrick no reason to fear for his life and resort to deadly force, prosecutor Adren Harris said.
But an attorney for Kerrick said Ferrell made a number of bad choices after drinking and smoking marijuana following a fight with his fiancee. As officers arrived, he yelled “shoot me!” Ferrell then charged at Kerrick and two other officers before they could assess the situation and tried to grab Kerrick’s gun when he fell on him after being shot several times, defense attorney Michael Greene said.
“This case is not about race. It never was about race. This case was about choices — Jonathan Ferrell’s bad choices,” Greene said.
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Kerrick, 28, is charged with voluntary manslaughter. He faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted. He was charged just hours after the shooting, before black men died during arrests or while in custody in Ferguson, Missouri; North Charleston, South Carolina; and Baltimore, among other places, sparking a national debate on police tactics.
Lawyers for both sides said video from dashboard cameras will support their version of events. That video has never been shown publicly. The first witnesses called by prosecutors Monday were friends and family of Ferrell. They described a man who was not violent or angry.
That was intended to contradict Kerrick’s lawyer, who said Ferrell was upset the night he died after fighting with his fiancee over his future. He went drinking at a bar and smoked marijuana before crashing a car owned by his fiancee’s father, Greene said.
Ferrell went to the first house he saw, kicking and pounding on the door screaming. Sarah McCartney testified Monday she was alone with her 1-year-old son. She opened the door for a moment, thinking it was her husband, then slammed it shut, locked it back and called police, reporting a home invasion. McCartney’s home alarm then began sounding and Ferrell can be heard screaming “shut it off!” as the homeowner spoke to the alarm company and the 911 operator.
“I was terrified,” McCartney said.
Ferrell, a 24-year-old former Florida A&M football player, kept kicking and hitting the door for a few minutes — so hard that he dented it, Greene said.
There was “no, ‘I need help! Turn off the alarm!'” said Greene, the defense attorney. “It is 2:36 in the morning. This is how the subject introduced himself.”
Kerrick and the two other officers found Ferrell a short distance away near the lighted neighborhood clubhouse. Ferrell charged the officers. At his autopsy, Ferrell’s DNA was found on Kerrick’s uniform and on the slide and trigger of the officer’s gun. Kerrick’s DNA was under Ferrell’s fingernails, Greene said.
But prosecutors said Ferrell, not thinking straight after the wreck, only started running because he feared for his life when one of the other officers said nothing before training the laser targets from his Taser at his chest.
Ferrell fell on Kerrick after he was shot four times, not because he was attacking the officer. The eight additional shots came as Ferrell writhed and tried to crawl to escape, not as he reached for the gun, said Harris, a special deputy attorney general for the state who took over after the local district attorney said his office had a conflict trying Kerrick.
The other two officers at the scene did not shoot and were not charged.
“Who polices the police when they do wrong?” Harris asked jurors, picked in a two-week process. “You do.”
Testimony ended Monday with a paramedic testifying Ferrell was dead when he arrived, with prosecutors showing a photo of him lying face down on the edge of a road, handcuffed in a pool of blood. Several members of Ferrell’s family looked down as the picture was displayed on a big screen.
John Freeze testified he also checked on Kerrick, who showed him a cut on his lip and mumbled that he thought he was about to be sick.
A grand jury initially refused to indict Kerrick, an officer since 2011, on the voluntary manslaughter charge in January 2014, but prosecutors sent the case back a week later because the panel was missing four members. Kerrick was then indicted.
Charlotte agreed to pay Ferrell’s family for $2.25 million earlier this year to settle a lawsuit over the shooting.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.