Jonathan Ferrell

Three years before Keith Scott, another black man was killed by Charlotte cops—who walked free

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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.

The video showed Ferrell walking toward officers, speeding up into a run after officers fire a Taser at him. At no point did he yell “Shoot me!” or pound his thighs.

It still wasn’t enough to convince a jury, which deadlocked after four days of deliberation. On August 21, 2015, the judge overseeing the case declared a mistrial.

The lack of a verdict touched off several days of protests in Charlotte, with demonstrators calling on charges to be refiled against Kerrick.

But Attorney General Roy Cooper, the current Democratic candidate for governor of North Carolina, announced a few days later that he would not retry the case. Kerrick has since resigned from the police department, receiving a sixfigure severance.

Ferrell’s family had more success holding the city accountable in civil court. In May 2015, Charlotte paid $2.25 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit with the family.

In an interview with qcitymetro.com on the third anniversary of his brother’s death, Willie Ferrell said that justice meant much more than just convicting the officer who killed his brother.

“Of course we would like to see the officer get the time (in prison) that we, as a family, feel he should receive, just as any citizen would for murdering somebody,” he told QCityMetro. “But now justice has switched from that and to making sure that this does not happen to other families. Whenever the world changes, that’s when justice will be served, not just for our family but for the world and the country.”

It’s been a week since Willie Ferrell said those words. In the intervening seven days, Keith Lamont Scott was killed and Charlotte has once again seen protest over a fatal police shooting of a black man. Change and justice still seems to be a ways away.

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