CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A white police officer testified Thursday that he repeatedly fired his gun at an unarmed black man because the man kept charging at him and he didn't think his weapon was even working.
Holding back tears and in a quavering voice, Officer Randall Kerrick re-created the events of Sept. 14, 2013, at one point yelling "Stop!" and "Get on the ground!" to a nearly packed courtroom as he repeated the warnings he said he gave to former Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell.
With a Mecklenburg County sheriff's deputy stationed to the left of the witness box, Kerrick told the jury that he thought his gun wasn't working because Ferrell kept coming at him.
"I thought I was going to die because I could do nothing that would stop him," Kerrick said. He said even when he freed himself after Ferrell fell on his lower legs, he kept his gun trained on him because Ferrell was still moving.
Kerrick said he thought he fired four to six times, but said he now knows it was 12 times. Authorities say he hit Ferrell 10 times. Kerrick was the only officer who fired his gun.
The officer's was the last testimony of the day Thursday. He was expected to continue testifying when the trial resumes Friday morning.
Ferrell's death happened a little less than a year before an unarmed black man in New York and an unarmed 18-year-old black male in Ferguson, Missouri, died after separate violent encounters with police — cases that shined a national spotlight on how police departments treat minorities and sparked calls for widespread reforms. Protests and rioting followed Michael Brown's death in Ferguson and a grand jury's refusal to indict the officer. The unrest resumed this week as protesters marked the one-year anniversary of Brown's death.
Protests also followed the deaths of two unarmed black men after encounters with police earlier this year in Baltimore and South Carolina. Officers have been charged in both of those cases. Kerrick's trial, while packing the courthouse, has drawn little outside attention, perhaps because the officer was arrested and charged about 12 hours after the shooting.
Police have said that Kerrick and Officer Thornell Little responded to a 911 call from a resident who notified police after Ferrell knocked on the resident's door early on the morning of Sept. 14. Ferrell had crashed his car and had gone to the house apparently for help, they said.
Some of the testimony prior to Kerrick's appearance focused on training and whether his use of deadly force was necessary. Some witnesses testified that Kerrick told them he was afraid for his life and that he thought Ferrell was going to try to take his gun.
On Thursday, Little testified that when he first saw Ferrell, he was pacing and hitting his thighs with his hands. Little says Ferrell walked toward him and said, "Shoot me, shoot me!" after which the officer said he reached for his Taser, pointed it at Ferrell and fired. Little says it was after that that Ferrell ran toward Kerrick.
During cross-examination by prosecutor Adren Harris, Little was shown the dashcam video of the incident. In it, the red dots from Little's Taser lights are visible, but there's nothing on the audio portion to suggest that Ferrell asked the officer to shoot him.
Little says he gave Ferrell the command to stop, but that wasn't heard on the dashcam video, either.