Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Crime

Prosecutor pounds Officer Kerrick over inconsistencies on shooting

August 14, 2015 08:14 PM

UPDATED August 15, 2015 08:13 AM

A state prosecutor Friday accused Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick of changing key facts around the death of Jonathan Ferrell to justify his shooting of an unarmed man.

In almost three hours of sometimes dramatic questioning before a packed courtroom, Assistant Attorney General Teresa Postell said Kerrick exaggerated the threat Ferrell had posed two years ago when Kerrick shot him 10 times from close range.

Postell hammered at disparities between Kerrick’s testimony in his voluntary-manslaughter trial and what he earlier told police – from the distance between himself and Ferrell when the officer opened fire to when Kerrick first ordered the approaching Ferrell to stop. And while Kerrick told jurors Thursday that Ferrell had knocked him to the ground, he admitted under questioning Friday that he didn’t know if he had been tackled or slipped.

You don’t get to shoot people every time you respond to a breaking and entering, do you?

Prosecutor Teresa Postell, questioning Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick

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Postell also tried to undermine Kerrick’s depiction of his struggle with Ferrell in a roadside ditch. A tearful Kerrick testified Thursday that Ferrell was crawling up his body trying to take his gun. He said the shoulders of the former college football player were at his waist. He said he felt a jerk on his pistol.

“I thought I was going to die,” Kerrick said.

Kerrick told the jury Friday that he did not know if Ferrell was armed and that he had no option but to shoot. “There was absolutely nothing else I could do,” he said.

Postell, however, walked Kerrick through earlier testimony and the officer’s previous statements that placed Ferrell below Kerrick’s knees, draped around his feet and ankles. Significant amounts of Ferrell’s blood had been found on the officer’s boots and pants but none on his shirt. Friday, Postell held up Kerrick’s old uniform to drive home the point.

She reminded Kerrick of statements that he had never seen a weapon in Ferrell’s hands before mocking the notion that the officer had been put on higher alert because Ferrell matched the description of nearby home invasion.

“You don’t get to shoot people every time you respond to a breaking and entering, do you?” she said.

The tense back-and-forth illuminated the core debate in the trial, with Kerrick’s freedom hanging in the balance.

On Sept. 14, 2013, Ferrell wrecked his fiancee’s car after giving a friend a ride home. He pounded on the door of a nearby home, apparently seeking help. The woman inside called 911, saying an unknown black man was pounding on her door. Kerrick was one of three officers to rush to the scene.

Prosecutors say neither Kerrick nor fellow officer Thornell Little identified themselves or gave any commands when Ferrell approached them near the neighborhood pool. Instead, Little aimed then fired his Taser. Ferrell began to run – directly at Kerrick, who eventually fired 12 shots.

Prosecutors say Kerrick used excessive force. Kerrick’s defense team has argued that their client believed his life and those of his fellow officers were in peril. If convicted, the officer faces three to 11 years in prison.

Kerrick said he drew his Smith & Wesson pistol to provide backup to Little and his Taser. A video indicates that once Ferrell began to run, Kerrick gave him three loud orders to “Get on the ground!” He fired his first shot about three seconds after his first order.

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After the shooting, with Ferrell’s blood on his uniform, Kerrick told CMPD detectives in a video interview shown to the jurors that Ferrell was 10 feet away when Kerrick fired his first shot.

Thursday, he told the jury the gap was 3 feet to 5 feet.

“If 3 to 5 feet was the truth, did you think it was important to tell (detectives)?” Postell asked.

Kerrick said given the speed of events that night, it was hard to estimate.

Postell reminded Kerrick that he had positioned detectives in an interview to show the gap.

“You had them step out of the door,” she said.

She also probed at Kerrick’s statement that he told Ferrell to stop as he first walked up to Little. Under questioning by Postell, however, he acknowledged that his command came after Little had fired his Taser at Ferrell.

Kerrick apologized for the error but added, “I was in a fight for my life. There may be a few (inconsistencies) but they’re pretty close.”

Postell shot back: “Giving a command before or after a Taser is fired? Do you think that’s pretty close?”

Postell also led Kerrick through CMPD training and use-of-force policies. Throughout the trial, Kerrick’s attorneys have argued that CMPD tells officers different things.

He could have gotten to my weapon and taken it from me. ... There was absolutely nothing else I could do.

Police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick

Postell asked Kerrick to read a training directive.

“Your own belief that somebody might or might not have a weapon wouldn’t allow you to use a Taser, much less a firearm, right?” Postell asked.

“That’s what it says in the manual,” he said.

Toward the end of questioning, Postell took two photos to the witness stand. One showed Kerrick displaying injuries to his mouth where he said Ferrell struck him (A later witness said the injury was consistent with a punch or a bitten lip).

She then showed the officer an image of the mortally wounded Ferrell.

“Those two sets of injuries are a bit different, aren’t they?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am,” Kerrick replied, “they are.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS