By Greg Lacour
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) - Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the manslaughter trial of a North Carolina police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in one of a series of killings that have sparked a fresh debate on race and justice in the United States.
The case dates back to the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 14, 2013, when a 24-year-old former Florida A&M football player, Jonathan Ferrell, wrecked his car and went looking for help in a subdivision outside Charlotte, provoking a 911 call from a young woman who was surprised to find him knocking on her door in the middle of the night and feared a home invasion.
Three Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers responded and when Ferrell approached them, officer Randall Kerrick fired 12 shots at the man, 10 of which hit, killing him.
Attorneys for Kerrick, who is white, contend that Ferrell had ignored orders to stop approaching the officers and to lie on the ground. The other two officers involved in the case, who are black and were more experienced than Kerrick, did not draw their weapons.
Police charged Kerrick, 29, with voluntary manslaughter within hours of the shooting. He was the first police officer in Mecklenburg County charged in connection with an on-duty fatal shooting in more than 30 years.
Then-Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who has since retired, said Kerrick had used excessive force and that the facts of the case warranted his arrest. A grand jury indicted Kerrick in January 2014. In May, the city of Charlotte agreed to pay Ferrell’s family $2.25 million in a civil settlement.
The department's swift action stood in contrast to other police killings of unarmed black men in the United States over the past two years, including cases in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, that prompted months of occasionally violent protests.
But officers in Baltimore and North Charleston, South Carolina, have been charged this year following a pair of killings of unarmed black men.
Jury selection is expected to take several days with the Superior Court trial forecast to last several weeks. The judge hearing the case, Robert Ervin, twice denied defense attorneys’ change of venue motions, saying a jury pool in a neighboring county would be as likely to have seen pretrial news coverage as one in Charlotte.
A toxicology report found no traces of drugs in Ferrell’s system and a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit for driving.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)