Mistrial for officer and no justice for unarmed man: family vows to fight on
By CHRISTINA COOKE
August 22, 2015
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“It’s very disheartening, very anticlimactic and very frustrating,” said Charlotte resident Theresa McCormick-Dunlap of the mistrial announcement in the voluntary manslaughter case of a white North Carolina police officer who killed an unarmed black man in 2013.
McCormick-Dunlap was one of many supporters of the victim, Jonathan Ferrell, who held vigil in the Charlotte courtroom during the more than two-week trial of suspended Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick.
Superior court judge Robert C Ervin declared the mistrial on Friday afternoon when the 12 jurors – seven white, three black and two Latino – reached an impasse, an 8-4 deadlock, after four days of deliberation. Jurors have not revealed whether the balance leaned toward guilty or not guilty.
“It should have been a clear conviction,” McCormick-Dunlap said.
After the announcement, angry but peaceful protests took place outside the Charlotte courthouse. Protesters lay face-down in the road for a die-in. Others filled the streets and the entryway to the courthouse, chanting: “No justice, no peace.”
Charlotte activist Robert Dawkins, who in 2012 founded Safe Coalition NC, to build public trust and accountability in North Carolina law enforcement, said he was disappointed by the trial’s ambivalent conclusion – but not surprised.
“It’s another statement of implicit bias and what African Americans have to go through in this country,” Dawkins said.
Chris Chestnut, an attorney for the Ferrell family, said the family planned to push North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper for a new trial, which most Ferrell supporters see as a necessity.
Chestnut said certain pieces of evidence were not presented and said he had concerns with some of the framing of the case, including the fact that the defense referred to Ferrell throughout as “the suspect”, when in fact he had just experienced a car wreck and was not armed.
“The prosecutors did their best with what they had, but we’re convinced that in a new trial, additional facts will be brought out,” Chestnut said.
Throughout the trial, the Ferrell family called for peace from their supporters, a request they reinforced after Friday’s proceedings.
“We’re not about violence,” said Jonathan’s younger brother Willie, standing beside his mother Georgia and Chestnut outside the courthouse. “We’re not violent people.”
Supporters of Kerrick and Ferrell treated each other quite amicably during the trial. Though they sat on opposite sides of the courtroom, they mingled and chatted during breaks – and even shared cigarettes. Earlier this week, some Ferrell supporters even expressed regret that if convicted, Kerrick would be locked away from his one-year-old son.
Dawkins and other Ferrell supporters said they expected protests over the mistrial to remain nonviolent. On Friday evening, several community churches opened their doors to allow people to gather, reflect, pray and talk about the verdict.
Violence only reinforces negative stereotypes, Dawkins said, and “sets back your cause if you’re trying to work on policy fixes or if you’re trying to build dialogue”.
In addition to advocating for a retrial, Charlotte activists plan to push the city police department to clarify its use-of-force policies, which various officers’ testimonies revealed were unclear, Dawkins said.
Defense witness Dave Cloutier, a former police officer and retired instructor for the North Carolina Justice Academy, testified that according to CMPD policy, Kerrick was justified in deploying his firearm. CMPD captain Mike Campagna testified that he was not.
Activists also plan to continue forwarding the state House Bill 193, also known as the “Jonathan Ferrell Bill”, which is meant to put structures like municipal citizen review boards in place to combat discriminatory profiling by police. Though state representative Rodney Moore submitted the bill early this spring, it has yet to make it out of committee, Dawkins said.
On the night of the incident in September 2013, Ferrell, a 24-year-old former scholarship football player for Florida A&M University, gave a co-worker a ride home to a suburb east of Charlotte. After wrecking his car, he knocked on the door of a nearby house. The homeowner called 911 in a panic, to report a breaking-and-entering.
Kerrick and two other Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers – Thornell Little and Adam Neal – responded. Immediately upon seeing Ferrell, Little fired his Taser at him. He missed. When Ferrell began to run toward Kerrick, the officer thought his life was in danger, he stated later. He drew and fired his .40 caliber service weapon 12 times from close range, hitting Ferrell 10 times and killing him almost immediately.
During the trial, which began on 3 August and involved 50 witnesses and around 350 pieces of evidence, the prosecution argued that Kerrick abandoned his training and used excessive force. The defense countered that Kerrick was justified in firing the shots, because he believed Ferrell posed a threat to his life.
The case, which spurred outrage when it happened, followed the shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 and preceded the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. With similar incidents, it has called attention to the national issue of police violence against African Americans.
Though peaceful protests are likely to continue in Charlotte, frustration continues.
“This country is a boiling cauldron,” said McCormick-Dunlap. “There’s something enraging about seeing people who look like your brother or your cousin mowed down on such a flimsy premise.
“The pot boils over eventually when you keep adding this kind of heat and not letting things settle down before you have another case.”