Police shooting death of black car crash victim could test North Carolina’s ‘stand your ground’ law

By Travis Gettys
Monday, October 14, 2013 13:57 EDT
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A North Carolina homicide case could test the state’s “stand your ground” law.

A Charlotte police officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell after the former college football player was involved in a serious single-car crash last month.

Ferrell had crashed into a tree early Sept. 14 and sought help from the nearest house, but the woman who came to the door called 911 to report a possible break-in.

One of the police officers who responded, Randall Kerrick, fired 12 times at Ferrell, hitting him 10 times.

Kerrick is white and Ferrell was black, so the case has drawn comparisons to the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

But Winston-Salem Journal columnist Doug Clark notes that Charlotte police moved quickly to investigate Ferrell’s shooting death, noting the following day in a statement that it was “excessive” and that Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”

By contrast, police in Sanford, Florida, declined to charge Zimmerman, saying they’d found no evidence to rebut his claims of self-defense.

A dashboard camera captured some of the events leading to Ferrell’s death, and police Chief Rodney Monroe quickly announced that Kerrick had not followed department training protocol.

But the columnist notes that Kerrick could use North Carolina’s “stand your ground law,” passed 2011, to defend himself in court.

Evidence indicates that Ferrell, who may have suffered a head injury in the crash, ran toward police and disregarded orders to stop even as another officer shocked him with a Taser stun gun.

Clark says one of Kerrick’s lawyers said he’d seen the dash-cam video, which has not been publicly released, and he said Ferrell had one hand behind his back as he approached police and disobeyed three orders to get on the ground, so the officer shot him.

“Very dramatic. And very precise,” Clark writes. “(The attorney) was carefully asserting a series of facts and a state of mind. All are critical in establishing a line of defense allowed by law.”

The law permits deadly force and does not require retreat if a person has a lawful right to be in a given place and reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm

Clark says the officer will likely claim he didn’t know whether Ferrell had a weapon hidden behind his back, but the columnist says Kerrick will have a harder time winning acquittal because more evidence exists in this case.

“This case also puts the law on trial,” Clark says. “Critics said the legislature set a permissive standard for deadly self-defense. This case may test that contention.”

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