A year ago Sunday, Jonathan Ferrell wrecked his car on an unfamiliar road. A toxicology report showed no signs drugs, and while he had been drinking he was not drunk. He escaped the car barefoot and without his cellphone. He sought help at a nearby house, but his late-night and urgent knocking frightened the woman inside.
He then ran up to three Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers who had responded to the woman’s 911 call. Moments later, he was dead, and for the first time in at least 30 years, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer was charged with a crime in connection with an on-duty shooting.
Since middle school, Jonathan Ferrell lovedthe same girl.
For most of his adult life, Wes Kerrick dreamed of being a cop.
A year ago, those paths brought the two men – both in their 20s, one black, the other white – face-to-face in a suburban neighborhood outside Charlotte in northeast Mecklenburg.
Within seconds, Ferrell lay dying from 10 bullets that came from Kerrick’s service weapon.
Later that same day, Kerrick, who comes from a law-enforcement family, including a sister who also serves on CMPD, was charged with voluntary manslaughter. He had less than three years experience on the force at the time.
Ferrell, 24, was a former Florida A&M football player who had moved to Charlotte to be with fiancee Caché Heidel, his girlfriend since they were teenagers in Tallahassee, Fla., and now a Charlotte accountant. He had been working two jobs to pay for classes at Johnson C. Smith University, where he hoped to major in chemistry.
Kerrick remains suspended without pay. His criminal trial, which is being prosecuted by the attorney general’s office, is expected to take place next year. For now, a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Ferrell’s mother against Kerrick, the police and local government remains on hold in federal court.
Occurring between the deaths of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and Brown in Ferguson, Ferrell’s shooting drew national headlines. It made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and next month is scheduled to be the subject of a special report on ESPN.
Yet, many vital details of the night remain closed to the public – from eyewitness statements to the video shot with a patrol car camera.
Sometime after 2 a.m., Ferrell wrecked his Toyota Camry in the Bradfield Farms community of northwest Mecklenburg after giving a co-worker a ride home.
He kicked his way free of the car, then walked to the nearest home.
Inside, a woman was alone with her young child, her husband at work. The 911 recording captures the frantic mother saying an unknown man had tried to break into her home. Monroe later described Ferrell as “viciously” pounding on the front door.
A police call went out for an attempted home invasion. Three officers, including Kerrick, responded.
According to police reports, Ferrell ran up to the officers and ignored repeated calls to stop and get on the ground. One of the officers fired his Taser but missed. Ferrell then veered directly into Kerrick.
At some point Kerrick started firing – 12 shots in all.
The other officers, both African-American and with more experience than Kerrick, did not pull their guns. Their accounts of the shooting remain sealed.
So does the 20-second dash-cam video, which reportedly captured the moments leading up to the shooting. City officials say Monroe ordered Kerrick’s arrest after he and his top staff watched the footage. A judge has given the attorney general’s office control on when and whether it is released.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said Friday that showing the video prematurely could compromise Kerrick’s right to a fair trial.
Citing the role a video played in the domestic-abuse case against NFL player Ray Rice last week, Ferrell family attorney Chris Chestnut again called for the release of the footage.
“Video speaks truth. What’s there to hide?” said Chestnut, who saw the video shortly after the shooting. “The truth is that it’s murder. On camera.”
Chestnut says Kerrick’s behavior, not Ferrell’s, is on trial.
While the events marking Ferrell’s death are 500 miles away, Walker says African-Americans in Charlotte will grieve, too.
“I didn’t know Trayvon Martin, but it hurts, and we felt the pain because if it could happen there, it could happen here,” Walker says.
“Mr. Ferrell may not have been a native son. But he was one of our sons.” [Charlotte Observer]