CMPD Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick describes shooting Jonathan Ferrell during his voluntary manslaughter trial Thursday. cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
CMPD Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick describes shooting Jonathan Ferrell during his voluntary manslaughter trial Thursday. cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

Crime

Live updates: Officer Kerrick says he fired because ‘I thought I was going to die’

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

August 13, 2015 10:17 AM

UPDATED August 14, 2015 07:29 AM

This is the second week of testimony in the voluntary manslaughter trial of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who is accused of wrongfully killing Jonathan Ferrell in a late-night encounter in 2013.

For a review of the basic facts of the case and links to prior reports, scroll to the bottom.

5 p.m.: Kerrick describes shooting Ferrell

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

Under questioning from his defense attorneys, Kerrick said in court Thursday that he drew his handgun after seeing Officer Thornell Little draw a Taser. He said he’d been on a number of calls with Little and knew this call must be serious because he’d never seen Little use his Taser before.

Kerrick said he was prepared to watch Little tase Ferrell, and then would’ve holstered his firearm to handcuff Ferrell. But the Taser missed.

Because Little was within a few feet of Ferrell when he fired his Taser, Kerrick testified, he didn’t see how he could have missed.

Kerrick said he yelled for Ferrell to stop, but instead Ferrell came at him. Ferrell did not say anything but kept moving toward him, and Kerrick said he thought he could be armed.

Kerrick said he thought Ferrell was going to attack him and take his gun.

“I thought I was going to die. Because nothing I could do would stop him,” Kerrick said.

He said he backpedaled, and loudly commanded Ferrell to “Get on the ground!” but Ferrell kept advancing. That’s when he opened fire.

At some point, Kerrick said, he was knocked to the ground by contact with Ferrell.

Defense attorneys showed jurors images of injuries to Kerrick’s mouth and arms. Kerrick said the injuries came from contact with Ferrell.

He said he believed he fired four to six shots, but now knows he fired more. (Police said he fired 12 shots. The medical examiner said 10 shots hit Ferrell.)

Kerrick is expected to be on the witness stand when court resumes Friday morning. Prosecutors have not yet questioned him.

4:10 p.m.: Kerrick talks about the night of the shooting

After court resumed from a break, defense lawyers began asking Kerrick about the night of the shooting.

Kerrick described joining a priority one call for a breaking-and-entering in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood just east of Charlotte.

He said he turned off his lights and siren as he approached the neighborhood so that he wouldn’t scare off a suspect. He also said he turned off his dashcam.

Officer Adam Neal, who arrived just after Kerrick, left his dashcam running and captured part of the encounter with Ferrell.

Kerrick describes moments before shooting.

Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick describes moments before shooting during his voluntary manslaughter trial Thursday.

cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

3:50 p.m.: Kerrick talks about training, commendations

Kerrick testified for about half an hour before the court took an afternoon recess.

He briefly began crying as he talked about his wife and son. He took a moment to compose himself as Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin handed him a tissue.

Kerrick said he always wanted to be a police officer. His sister also works at CMPD. He had worked since his early teens to support his family and didn’t go to college. The police force prefers college graduates as recruits. Kerrick says he took a job with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control to get a foot in the door at CMPD.

“Was (animal control) your career goal,” Defense Attorney George Laughrun asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“What was your career goal?” Laughrun asked.

“To be a police officer,” Kerrick said.

Defense attorneys had him show jurors his uniform, utility belt and bulletproof vest. He also spoke about commendations he had received. He said he had never been reprimanded by the department.

Kerrick said he had been counseled following a use of force situation. He said a lieutenant told him that if he was uncertain whether a suspect had a weapon and another officer had pulled a Taser, Kerrick should be ready to use lethal force to cover the officer.

That conversation has come up in previous testimony as attorneys sparred over what officers are trained to do in situations like Kerrick’s encounter with Ferrell.

The defense team likely has additional questions for Kerrick after court resumes. Prosecutors have not yet questioned him.

3:10 p.m.: Officer Kerrick is on the witness stand

The defense team has called Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick to the witness stand to testify in his own defense.

Defense attorneys started by asking Kerrick brief biographical questions. Kerrick said he always wanted to be a police officer, but didn’t go to college because he worked to support his family.

Officer Wes Kerrick takes the stand in his defense

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall 'Wes' Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter in Jonathan Ferrell's killing.

cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

2:45 p.m.: In interview, Little says Ferrell seemed ‘high or something’

After hearing Officer Thornell Little’s testimony earlier Thursday, jurors saw the officer’s videotaped interview, an hourlong account of the shooting.

Two homicide detectives interviewed Little at police headquarters in 2013, about four hours after Ferrell was killed. The detectives tell Little he’s “not in trouble,” but he’s accompanied by his attorney in the interview room.

In the interview, Little describes Ferrell’s behavior as erratic.

“I exited my vehicle and he started walking towards me,” Little told the detectives. “He was yelling and screaming and going around in circles. After that, he started walking towards me and he was saying ‘shoot me, shoot me.’ ... It seemed like he might be high or something.”

Little said he unsuccessfully fired his Taser, and Ferrell started running toward Kerrick “like he was going to knock him over, bum rush him or something.”

12:10 p.m. Defense attorneys call Officer Adam Neal again

Defense attorneys re-called Officer Adam Neal, the third officer at the shooting scene of Jonathan Ferrell and the last to arrive.

The dashboard camera from Neal’s patrol car captured some of the moments leading up to the shooting.

Neal’s time on the witness stand was brief, but defense attorneys and prosecutors continue to spar over how Kerrick and Ferrell were positioned when the shots were fired.

Court has been delayed as personnel try to work out an audio glitch with a piece of evidence.

11:30 a.m.: Jury hears Little’s recorded interview with homicide detectives

Defense attorneys played a recording of Officer Thornell Little’s interview with homicide detectives shortly after the shooting.

Little says he saw a black man walking in circles and “hitting his thigh area.”

Little told detectives he commanded the man to stop, then pulled his Taser and tried to shock the man.

In the audio recording, Little tells homicide detectives that Ferrell “ran straight toward Officer Kerrick as if he was trying to knock him over and that’s when the shots were fire.”

CMPD Officers Kerrick, Little testify in manslaughter trial

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers Randall 'Wes' Kerrick and Thornell Little testified Thursday in the manslaughter trial against Kerrick in the death of Jonathan Ferrell. Video by WBTV.

10:45 a.m.: Officer Thornell Little is questioned by prosecution

After Officer Thornell Little testified that Jonathan Ferrell was behaving erratically and said “shoot me” twice, prosecutor Adren Harris replayed the dashcam video that shows officers approaching Ferrell.

“I want to know when to stop (the video), when (Ferrell) starts spinning around, patting his thighs?” Harris asks. “Did you hear him say ‘shoot me, shoot me?’ Did you hear (yourself) say ‘stop’? I can rewind it. Do you want me to rewind it again?”

The dashcam video plays and Little doesn’t tell Harris to stop it.

Little reiterated what he saw after firing his Taser.

“I could see him running at Officer Kerrick,” he said. “Kerrick was backpedaling. At one point, I remember looking down at my Taser and looking up and I saw muzzle flash. ... I saw Officer Kerrick backpedaling and the subject was running toward Officer Kerrick and hit and Kerrick fell back.”

10:10 a.m.: Officer Thornell Little testifies that Ferrell said ‘shoot me’

Officer Thornell Little arrived just after Kerrick at the house where a 911 call had been placed. At Kerrick’s direction, he went down the pool road. He was the first officer to see Ferrell and he said Ferrell was acting erratically, pacing and slapping his hands on his thighs.

“He walks toward me and I hear him say ‘shoot me’ twice,” Little said.

Little said he told Ferrell to stop, but Ferrell did not. Little said he fired his Taser but later learned it didn’t connect. Then, he said, Ferrell began running toward him and Kerrick.

“Kerrick was backpedaling away from the subject,” Little said. “He’s yelling at the time. He was yelling, ‘Get on the ground.’ I saw muzzle flash from Officer Kerrick’s weapon.”

Little said it was the first time he’d fired his Taser in 13 years on the force.

The police dashcam video of the encounter was captured by Officer Adam Neal and begins several seconds after Little is already near Ferrell. It first shows Ferrell as he is walking on a sidewalk toward the officers and there is no pacing visible. The dashcam audio does not capture any communication before the Taser was fired. The microphone was on Neal’s uniform, and he was still inside his car at the time Little says he gave a command.

Basic facts

A jury will decide whether Kerrick used excessive force when he fired 12 shots at Ferrell, or whether he was justified because he thought Ferrell posed a deadly threat.

The 12-member jury has two people who are Latino, three African-American and seven white. Eight are women and four are men. The alternate jurors are all white, and consist of one man and three women.

If convicted, Kerrick faces three to 11 years in prison. He has been on unpaid suspension since the shooting.

According to police, Ferrell wrecked his fiancee’s car on his way home after an outing with friends and sought help at a house in a neighborhood east of Charlotte. The homeowner, afraid someone was trying to break in, called 911. Kerrick and two other officers responded, and the deadly confrontation ensued.

Ferrell, 24, had moved to Charlotte from Florida to be with his fiancee. He was a former scholarship football player for Florida A&M University. He was working at both Best Buy and Dillard’s at the time of his death.

Dashcam video in Kerrick case played in public for first time

A dashcam video that shows Jonathan Ferrell and police officers was shown in court during CMPD Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick's voluntary manslaughter trial. |

To read reports from the second week of Kerrick’s trial:

Monday live updates, Monday’s wrap-up story.

Tuesday live updates, Tuesday’s wrap-up story.

Wednesday live updates, Tuesday’s wrap-up story.

To read reports from the first week of Kerrick’s trial:

Monday live updates, Monday’s wrap-up story.

Tuesday live updates, Tuesday’s wrap-up story.

Wednesday live updates, Wednesday’s wrap-up story.

Thursday live updates, Thursday’s wrap-up story.

Friday live updates, Friday’s wrap-up story.

Q&A at the end of the first week.

Full transcript of CMPD interview with Kerrick in 2013.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson