Officer Wes Kerrick interviewed by homicide detectives eleland@charlotteobserver.com
Officer Wes Kerrick interviewed by homicide detectives eleland@charlotteobserver.com

Crime

Officer on trial told investigators Jonathan Ferrell wasn’t fazed by first shots

August 07, 2015 09:27 PM

UPDATED August 07, 2015 10:34 PM

During a recorded interview some four hours after he fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell, Randall “Wes” Kerrick described a man “with crazy-looking eyes” who ignored his commands and didn’t stop when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fired his first shots.

“I was giving him commands. ‘Don’t move. Don’t move.’ But he wasn’t paying me a bit of a attention,” Kerrick tells investigators in a filmed interview shown Friday at his voluntary manslaughter trial.

“When he got within, say, 10 feet of me, I fired my duty weapon. It did not faze him. He kept coming toward me. I fired again.”

Kerrick’s comments recorded on the morning of Sept. 14, 2013, and played in court Friday are the first the public has heard from the officer. His lawyers have not said whether he will speak from the witness stand later in the trial.

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Kerrick, 29, was arrested the same day Ferrell died. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and state prosecutors accuse him of using excessive force. His attorneys say he was defending himself and two other officers from a suspect in a reported home invasion nearby. If convicted, Kerrick faces between three and 11 years in prison.

The video of his interview put a dramatic ending on the first week of testimony. In one clip, after being told by Detective Edwin Morales that he “wasn’t in any trouble,” Kerrick stopped several times during answers to compose himself and wipe away tears.

Among Kerrick’s statements:

▪ Kerrick said he shot Ferrell five to seven times in two bursts of gunfire. In fact, he fired 12 shots, hitting Ferrell with 10 of the bullets.

▪ Kerrick said he gave a running series of commands to Ferrell after he failed to stop when another officer fired his Taser at him. On a police car video, Kerrick can be heard telling Ferrell to “Get on the ground!” three times before he opened fire. Three seconds pass between the officer’s first command and his first shot.

▪ In opening arguments, defense attorney Michael Greene said Ferrell tackled Kerrick and punched him during a struggle for Kerrick’s gun. In the interview video, the officer says he ended up on the ground but doesn’t know how. Morales says Kerrick never mentioned being punched during the interview. EMTs testified that Kerrick told them at the scene that Ferrell had struck him, and medics said they found a cut and some swelling consistent with a punch.

▪ Kerrick told investigators he turned off his siren and blue light as he entered Bradfield Farms to avoid alerting a possible suspect, and he also stopped his dashboard camera. Officer Adam Neal, the third officer on the scene that night, also cut off his blue light and siren when he reached the neighborhood, but he left his camera on.

Asked about possible inconsistencies after court adjourned, defense attorney George Laughrun said they are common for an officer who has gone through the shock of a fatal shooting.

Ferrell died a short time after wrecking his car in the Bradfield Farms community east of Charlotte, where Ferrell had gone to take a friend home. Homeowner Sarah McCartney said a man fitting Ferrell’s description pounded on her door shortly after 2:30 a.m. She called 911.

In the video, Kerrick tells his interviewers that he heard the dispatch call on his radio. Getting out of his car at McCartney’s home, he said he heard yelling and a “loud human grunt” coming from the direction of the neighborhood pool.

At that moment, police Officer Thornell Little arrived in his car. Kerrick said he pointed him toward the noise, then followed in his own vehicle, with Neal close behind.

By the time Kerrick pulls up behind Little, he said, the other officer already was pointing his Taser at a black man in a green shirt. (The dashcam video shows Kerrick opening his car door before Little.)

He described Ferrell as having “some crazy-looking eyes … like a hologram of some sort, almost looked like they were gray.” According to his autopsy, Ferrell, 24, had brown eyes.

Kerrick says he pulled his gun, then he watched as Little fired his Taser.

“I went lethal,” Kerrick said in the interview. “The Taser did not affect the suspect in any way. So I yelled for the suspect to stop, and he turned and faced me and started coming toward me.”

Kerrick said he gave a series of commands, then fired three to five shots. Kerrick said he then found himself on the ground, with Ferrell crawling up his legs.

“There was nothing I could do to get him off of me. Then I fired again. I felt like it was two times, above the shoulders. He was trying to get my gun,” Kerrick said.

On the police car video, Ferrell comes walking up to the officers until the red Taser dots appear on his chest. Then he runs off camera. Kerrick can be heard shouting “Get on the ground” three times before unleashing a barrage of gunfire. When the shooting stops, he yells “Don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t move.”

Prosecutors say neither Kerrick nor Little identified themselves or gave any warnings to Ferrell as he approached. Attorneys for the dead man’s family say once Kerrick shouted a command he didn’t wait for Ferrell to comply.

Morales told the jury that Kerrick said he never saw Ferrell holding a weapon but he shot because he was afraid Ferrell would take his gun.

Kerrick was the only officer on the scene to pull his firearm.

Morales read Kerrick’s reasoning from the transcript: “Somebody takes out a Taser, the other person has got to go lethal ... That Taser, you know, it’s going to do nothing when somebody draws a gun on you.”

Staff writers Elizabeth Leland and Langston Taylor contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS