Wrongful death suit filed in case of unarmed man killed by N.C. officer

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 14, 2014 3:05 PM

By Emily Harris

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - A North Carolina police officer used excessive force when he shot an unarmed former college football player 10 times, the deceased man's family charged on Tuesday in a lawsuit they say is their best chance to shed light on his death.

The family of shooting victim Jonathan Ferrell filed the lawsuit after being shut out of the criminal probes into his "gruesome murder" in Charlotte last year, attorney Christopher Chestnut said.

"This is a pathway to justice, an attempt to get answers," Chestnut told reporters at a press conference attended by Ferrell's mother and brother.

Ferrell, a 24-year-old former safety at Florida A&M University, had wrecked his car and banged on the door of a nearby home in the middle of the night looking for help shortly before being fatally shot by Officer Randall Kerrick on September 14, according to police.

Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter, and the North Carolina Attorney General's office said on Monday it would take the case against him before a grand jury next week.

The lawsuit by Ferrell's family accuses local city and county governments, and police of wrongful death and gross negligence. It also accuses Kerrick, who is white, of using unjustified deadly force against Ferrell, who was black.

The suit seeks financial damages on behalf of Ferrell's estate.

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the lawsuit was expected.

"In light of the pending criminal charges against Officer Kerrick, it would be inappropriate to comment on the lawsuit, other than to reiterate the city's and Chief (Rodney) Monroe's expression of sympathy for Mr. Ferrell's family," Hagemann said.

An attorney for Kerrick did not immediately comment on the lawsuit. Kerrick's attorneys have said the officer's actions were justified.

Chestnut said he hopes the legal action will lead to the release of Kerrick's personnel record and footage from the police dashboard camera, two items attorneys have unsuccessfully tried to obtain through public records requests.

He said Ferrell's family has high respect for law enforcement, with a couple of members employed in that field, but they feel that too much about Kerrick's training and the sequence of events on the night of the shooting remain unknown.

Ferrell's mother said she prayed the legal challenge would bring about better training for police officers.

"I feel like this never should have happened," said Georgia Ferrell, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. "I hope and pray that no one else ever goes through this."

(Reporting by Emily Harris; Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; editing by Gunna Dickson)