A week before police shot Keith Lamont Scott in the parking lot of a Charlotte apartment complex, the family of Jonathan Ferrell gathered a few miles away to mark the third anniversary of his killing at the hands of a Charlotte police officer.
That memorial went unnoticed outside of local media outlets, but many are now re-examining Ferrell’s death and wondering what, if anything, the city learned from the last time a black man’s death at the hands of police led to outcry in the streets.
Jonathan Ferrell was 24 on Sept. 14, 2013, when he was in a bad car crash and knocked on the door of a nearby house for assistance. The homeowner called the police, saying that someone was attempting to break into her house. Officer Randall Kerrick was one of three officers who responded to the report. He shot Ferrell 10 times.
Ferrell, a former college football player with Florida A&M University, had recently moved to Charlotte to be closer to his fiancée. His mother, Georgia Ferrell described him at a 2013 press conference as a “very, uplifting happy person” who wouldn’t hurt anyone and who used to take in stray animals.
“I had to teach Jonathan that worms were not our friends because Mama is scared of them,” she said.
Local prosecutors responded quickly to the shooting, and Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter within days. But things began to slow down after that. A grand jury declined to indict Kerrick in January 2014, asking prosecutors to resubmit as a lesser charge. Instead, they resubmitted the charges to a second grand jury, which did indict Kerrick. It would be another year and a half before the officer’s trial would start in late July 2015.
Jurors heard two very different versions of what happened that night from prosecuting and defending lawyers. Kerrick’s legal team argued Ferrell had acted aggressively, pounding his thighs and shouting “Shoot me!” before charging at officers, forcing Kerrick to fire in self-defense. Prosecutors said that Ferrell became frightened after police pointed a Taser at him, and that the officers didn’t have good reason to fear for their safety.
Police cruiser dashboard camera footage released during the trial offered a story somewhat in the middle.