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Grand Jury fails to indict officer in fatal shooting

By Andrea Muhammad | Last updated: Jan 31, 2014 - 10:22:28 AM

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Attendees at rally held in Charlotte seeking justice in the murder of unarmed Black man Jonathon Ferrell on September 14, 2012.

CHARLOTE, N.C. - One day after observances commemorating the national holiday honoring civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a grand jury here made a “rare and unexpected move” by refusing to indict Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall Kerrick for the shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jonathon Ferrell.

The shooting sparked national outrage over what many called a classic case of excessive force on the part of a White law enforcement officer against a Black male.

It was at 2 a.m. on the morning of September 14, 2013, and Mr. Ferrell, 24, was involved in a car accident after giving a co-worker a ride home. Mr. Ferrell sought help by knocking on the door of a woman who became frightened and called 911. One of three officers responding, Mr. Kerrick opened fire, striking the former Florida A&M football player with 10 out of 12 shots discharged.

An investigation into the killing was conducted with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Chief of Police Rodney Monroe calling for charges of voluntary manslaughter against Mr. Kerrick. Chief Monroe was openly criticized by officers and law enforcement for “moving too fast” in filing charges against one of his own.

Sparking even greater outrage, on Jan. 22 a grand jury refused to indict Mr. Kerrick on the charge of manslaughter, instead asking the prosecutor resubmit with a “lesser-included or related offense.” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, issued a statement saying, “The case is not closed.”

“It would be in the best interest of justice to resubmit this case to a full grand jury, which we plan to do as soon as possible,” he said.

While it is unclear if prosecutors will resubmit original or lesser charges, they were expected to refile charges at Final Call press time Jan. 27.

As news spread of the refusal to indict Officer Kerrick, community activists and concerned residents moved to discuss next steps to ensure proper handling of the case.

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A few miles from where Mr. Ferrell was gunned down, a rally was held Jan. 23 by Next Level Ministries of Charlotte. The rally was heavily attended and media coverage reached into Africa and Europe. A cross section of residents, activists and religious leaders expressed support for the Ferrell family in its pursuit of justice.

“This is not just something happening here in Charlotte. … God uses justice as a weapon and if this city, state and country wants peace, everybody should [admit that] something is wrong here,” said Student Minister Corey Muhammad of the Nation of Islam mosque in Charlotte.

Charlotte NAACP branch President Kojo Nantambu passionately reflected public outrage about the case. “Even Jesus got angry and drove the money changers out of the church! You mean to tell me, we can’t be angry about our children?” he asked. “The rulers have set the tone. The atmosphere has been set by those at the top [and] there’s an evil spirit in Officer Kerrick and our police department!”

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Next Level Ministries Pastor Charles E. Jacobs shared how police brutality affected his own congregation just 10 days after the Ferrell killing. Church member Milton “Tre” Dunlap III, an aspiring actor who played roles in “Taledega Nights” and “Blood Done Signed My Name,” was caught in a case of mistaken identity, said the pastor.

While at home sending text messages and playing video games, N.C. State Troopers stormed the Dunlap family home in pursuit of home invasion suspects, fully armed and with attack dogs. Mr. Dunlap was violently taken into custody, said the pastor. Facing 28 years in prison if convicted, it was three days before the teen was released and exonerated of all charges, Pastor Jacobs continued. Evidence showed the teenager was sending text messages and playing video games, contradicting the arresting officer’s account, according to the pastor. Pastor Jacobs charged an unrepentant officer who told young Dunlap, “I should’ve shot you when I had the chance,” and that if the teenager had been shot to death “there would’ve been no case.”

“Young Black men are being hunted. We’re losing our sons (as early as) the third grade!” said Joseph Guzman, in remarks at the rally. People just need to “stand up,” he said. “The justice system will never be in our favor.”

In 2006, Mr. Guzman was seated in the car next to Sean Bell, when the Black man was fatally shot by New York police officers the night before his wedding. The Bell shooting sparked an uproar across the country. Mr. Guzman survived after being shot 16 times and five bullets remain in his body. He called the incident “an attempt on my life and the execution of Sean Bell.”

Rally organizer and civil rights activist John C. Barnett stressed the importance of monitoring the case while holding elected officials, judicial officials and the city of Charlotte accountable. Activists are considering a possible boycott of area hotels as the city is slated to host the upcoming 2014 CIAA Basketball Tournament.

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