CHARLOTTE — Attorneys for the family of a former Florida A&M football player filed a lawsuit Tuesday, targeting the officer who shot him to death and saying the department used excessive force after the unarmed man was shot 10 times.
“This is a lawsuit, a pathway to justice. It’s an attempt to get answers to many unanswered requests for information,” Attorney Christopher Chestnutt said at a news conference.
The lawsuit was filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, and names Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick and chief Rodney Monroe as defendants. The county and the city of Charlotte are also named as defendants.
Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Tuesday the lawsuit was expected, and that in light of the pending charges against Kerrick, it wouldn’t comment except to reiterate its sympathies, and those of Monroe, for the family of Jonathan Ferrell.
Chestnutt said it would be up to a jury to decide any type of monetary award, but attorney Charles G. Monnett III said the goal of the lawsuit is not financial gain.
“We want to be part of the difference that makes this stop, and stop now, so that no one else has to go through this,” Monnett said.
Kerrick is white and is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Ferrell, who is black. Chestnutt said the lawsuit also seeks to find out how Kerrick was allowed to have a gun and a badge and why he shot Ferrell after Ferrell wrecked his car in an unfamiliar neighborhood and sought help.
“This is an effort by this family to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Chestnutt said, “that all citizens take a closer look at who we give a gun and a badge to and who we trust to be police officers.”
The North Carolina Attorney General’s office said Monday it would seek an indictment against Kerrick, but Chestnutt asked why the officer hadn’t already been indicted.
The lawsuit describes in detail the events leading up to and including the shooting last Sept. 14.
According to the lawsuit, Ferrell had given a co-worker a ride home the previous evening. He would drive his car off the road and down an embankment and into some trees.
Ferrell couldn’t find his cellphone to make a call, so he kicked out the rear window of his disabled car and went in search of help. He pounded on the door of a home, but the woman there thought he was a robber and called 911.
Three officers responded to the call, but Kerrick was the only one who fired his gun. Police reports showed Kerrick fired at Ferrell 12 times, hitting him 10 times.
“Any officer that shoots an unarmed person, who’s not committed any crime 10 times, shoots at him 12 times, and the bullets are in a downward trajectory, demonstrates someone who is not commensurate with the standards, with the care and compassion of the law enforcement officers that we know,” Chestnutt said. “So, clearly, this was a rogue officer, and the question is, how does a rogue officer get onto a police force? How does he get a gun and a badge?”
The family says the city of Charlotte and the police department failed to ensure its officers are adequately trained and instructed in the use of force, and that the department adopted what was termed “a paramilitary approach” to law enforcement that was inconsistent with the goals and responsibilities of a civilian law enforcement agency.
The lawsuit also points to a history of shootings involving Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers, and the establishment of a citizens review board after two people were shot and killed within a five-month period. That portion of the 27-page document describes at least five more instances of fatal shootings involving police, and that there have been at least five deaths resulting from police officers firing their weapons in the past 13 months.
Ferrell’s mother, Georgia, sat at a table flanked by Chesnutt, Monnett and her other son. She clutched a stuffed Winnie the Pooh doll that sat in her lap.
“How do I feel sitting here? I feel I shouldn’t be here,” she said. “This should have never happened.”