(Reuters) - Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot dead an unarmed man who was running toward police officers and may have been just trying to get help after crashing his car, authorities said.
A police officer has been charged with voluntary manslaughter for Saturday's shooting, and an attorney for the victim's family said on Sunday he believed race played a role in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, who was black.
"If Mr. Farrell was not black or brown, wouldn't they have asked him a few questions before showering him with bullets?" said attorney Chris Chestnut, who said he would request all police evidence from the shooting.
Farrell, seeking help after the accident, knocked on a door in a predominantly white neighborhood, Chestnut said.
A woman called the 911 emergency operator after Ferrell began knocking insistently on her front door about 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said.
The woman, who immediately closed the door on Ferrell after seeing it was not her husband, was likely unaware he had just crawled out of his wrecked car in nearby woods, police said.
Three police officers arrived, finding Ferrell a short distance from the woman's house. As soon as the officers got out of their vehicles, Ferrell started running toward them, police said.
One officer unsuccessfully fired a Taser at Ferrell, and he kept running. Randall Kerrick, another officer, then shot Ferrell several times with his service weapon, killing him, police said.
Police found Ferrell's wrecked car later in the morning.
The police department has placed all three officers on administrative leave while they investigate the shooting. Detectives charged Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter on Saturday.
"Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter," the police department said in a statement.
Ferrell was a former football player for Florida A&M University in Tallahassee who had recently moved to Charlotte with his fiancee to continue his studies at Johnson C. Smith University, Chestnut said.
Ferrell was on the Florida A&M roster in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, playing safety, the university said in a statement.
Chestnut, based in Atlanta, represents the family of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, who was killed in a hazing incident in 2011. Twelve former band members have been charged with manslaughter, and the family is suing the university for wrongful death.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jackie Frank)