CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Following a grand jury’s refusal to indict a white Charlotte policeman in the shooting death of an unarmed black man, prosecutors from the North Carolina attorney general’s office are headed back to court on Monday to start trying again with new jurors.
The Mecklenburg County Grand Jury declined last week to indict Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter for the September shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, recommending instead that the charges be reduced.
Last September, Kerrick was one of several officers responding to a 911 call placed at around 2:30 a.m. by a homeowner who reported an attempted burglary after hearing Ferrell knocking loudly on her door. Ferrell had been in a car accident and is believed to have been seeking help. The responding officers quickly located Ferrell near the residence and say he ran toward them. Kerrick drew his service revolver and shot a dozen rounds, hitting Ferrell 10 times.
The case stunned many observers and made headlines across the United States. Civil rights advocates argued that it showed that police officers are too quick to use violence in encounters with young black men. Following the shooting, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department immediately arrested Kerrick and charged him with voluntary manslaughter.
However, after hearing evidence compiled by the State Bureau of Investigation and collected by the city’s police department, the jurors did not agree with the charge. “We the Grand Jury respectfully request that the district attorney submit a bill of indictment to a lesser-included or related offense,” the jurors said in a handwritten note submitted to the court Jan. 21.
Special prosecutors from the N.C. attorney general’s office have stepped in with the case — at the request of the district attorney in Mecklenburg County — a move not uncommon when there is a potential conflict of interest.
According to the attorney general, the charge of voluntary manslaughter remains valid. “In the interest of justice, we will resubmit this case to the grand jury scheduled to meet Monday, January 27 to seek an indictment for voluntary manslaughter, the most appropriate charge given the facts in this case,” read a statement issued by Attorney General Ray Cooper.
Attorneys representing Ferrell’s family echoed support for Cooper’s decision to resubmit the case. Earlier this month, Ferrell’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Kerrick, as well as the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe.
“We are convinced that the evidence in this case warrants an indictment for voluntary manslaughter and not for some lesser offense,” read a statement from the family. “We urge everyone to allow those in the criminal justice system a full opportunity to meet their professional responsibilities. The Ferrell family has faith in God that justice will prevail in the end and that Jonathan’s death will not have been in vain.”
Calling the shooting an “unbelievably tragic overuse of force,” American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation Legal Director Chris Brook cautioned immediately after the incident that it was not clear what role Ferrell’s race played. “I think when you see an incident such as this when an unarmed young black man is shot 10 times, then you are obliged to ask the tough questions about what role race played in this incident,” he said.
The lack of an indictment from the original Mecklenburg grand jury, which did not have all 18 panel members present to hear the case, has left some observers stunned. “I was totally disgusted,” said the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, head of Charlotte’s chapter of the NAACP, when he heard the news. “There was a sense of anger.” Presenting the case to a new, full grand jury panel does little to reassure him. “My fear is that the grand jury is going to try to reduce the charges again,” he said.
Troubling Nantambu beyond what he sees as a legal setback, however, is the lack of visible outrage in the city’s black community. “You hear people say things in quiet sessions in the corner, but the streets should be full of people,” he said. A generational divide is to blame, the civil rights leader said, adding that he often finds it difficult to engage younger members of the community who don’t see threats of racism, or when they do, don't know how to speak up.
“This was an outrageous killing, an unnecessary killing and you don’t have out any outrage – not from the black community, not from anybody,” Nantambu said.