CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Attorneys for the family of a former Florida A&M football player fatally shot by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, have filed a civil lawsuit against several parties connected to his death.
According to the complaint filed Monday by Jonathan Ferrell’s mother, the family is targeting the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe and the shooter, Officer Randall Kerrick.
The mother, Georgia Ferrell, said Tuesday that she hopes the lawsuit will lead to changes in the way Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are trained.
“I don’t know if it will bring peace, but I hope and pray that (in) doing this … that they get the proper training,” Ferrell said at a news conference, flanked by her two attorneys.
Kerrick shot an unarmed Ferrell, 24, in September after a woman — home alone with her 1-year-old child — called 911 and reported that someone was trying to break down her front door.
It was 2:35 a.m., and according to the lawsuit, the woman “does not understand that Jonathan may be injured and is in need of assistance and becomes frightened by his presence on her doorstep at such a late hour. She quickly closes the door, calls 911 for assistance and activates her home security system,” the lawsuit states.
The woman told police Ferrell was “yelling for her to turn her alarm off,” but never reported that Ferrell harmed her, made threatening statements, brandished a weapon or stole or vandalized her property, the lawsuit further alleges.
Police were dispatched, and Ferrell walked down the street to seek assistance elsewhere, according to the lawsuit.
Kerrick and two other officers arrived on the scene about 11 minutes after the 911 call, but Kerrick didn’t speak with the woman, the lawsuit says. He instead tracked down Ferrell, who “never engages in any conduct which can be objectively reasonably interpreted as aggravated active aggression,” according to the lawsuit.
“Defendant Kerrick, in direct violation of written CMPD regulations, fires 12 high-velocity bullets at Jonathan, striking him 10 times in the chest and arms,” the lawsuit continues.
Kerrick is accused in the lawsuit of failing to recognize Ferrell was injured and unarmed, failing to identify himself and failing to adequately assess the situation before firing his weapon.
The lawsuit further alleges that Kerrick used “stealth and surprise” in approaching Ferrell and “negligently failed to realize that, because of the dim lighting in the area, Jonathan would be startled, frightened and unable to see his approach and commands.”
“Afterwards, as he lay dying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, on information and belief, Jonathan struggled to breathe and, in effect, drowned in his own blood. In short, upon information and belief, Jonathan experienced excruciating and horrible physical pain and mental suffering as he died from gunshot wounds inflicted upon him by Defendant Kerrick,” the lawsuit states.
The 25-page lawsuit, which devotes about two pages to citing allegations of misconduct and excessive force by Charlotte police since 1997, seeks monetary relief of more than $10,000, though the exact amount isn’t specified.
Back in October, family attorney Chris Chestnut accused Kerrick of “cold-blooded murder,” saying the incident was caught on a dashboard camera of a police cruiser at the scene. Ferrell was involved in a serious wreck a block away and was only seeking help, according to Chestnut.
Kerrick has been charged with felony voluntary manslaughter, meaning he is accused of either using excessive force in self-defense or shooting Ferrell without the intent to kill him. He is free on $50,000 bond.
“We are confident that at the resolution of this case, it will be found that Officer Kerrick’s actions were justified on the night in question,” his attorney, Michael Greene, said in September.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has called the shooting unlawful.
“The evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive,” police said in a statement on September 14, the day of the shooting. “Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”
The statement further said, “It has devastated a family as well as caused a great deal of sadness and anxiety in our organization.”
Police used the words “charged,” “ran” and “advanced” in describing Ferrell’s interaction with police. But Chestnut said the young man merely walked “briskly” toward them and surmised that Ferrell was relieved police had arrived to help him after he wrecked his car.
An officer tried to subdue Ferrell with a stun gun but was “unsuccessful,” police have said. Kerrick opened fire after that.
At the time of his death, the former gymnast, FAMU chemistry major and safety for the football team was working at both Dillard’s department store and Best Buy, to save money to complete his education as an automotive engineer, the lawsuit says.
His fiancee, Cache Heidel, told CNN in October that Ferrell had been out with friends the night he was shot.
He had just given a coworker a ride home, about 17 miles east of central Charlotte, and on his way back to his own home, Ferrell drove off the road, down an embankment and into a group of trees, the lawsuit says.
Ferrell couldn’t find his phone, and his car doors were jammed shut, so Ferrell kicked out the back window of the car and walked a half mile to a home where he knocked on the door for help, according to the lawsuit.
Family members have said Ferrell was a happy, outgoing guy. Heidel described him as someone who was always joking and finding ways to make people smile. His demeanor was so gentle and caring, she said, that she nicknamed him “Sweets.”
“He’s always a joy to be around. He cared so much for other people, more so than himself,” she said in her October interview.
She said she hopes Kerrick is convicted and that her fiance’s death will spur dialogue across the nation.
“That is a hope I have, that his death will resound for a country that prides itself on being diverse and inclusive and accepting everyone for who they are,” she said.