Two protestors were arrested and charged with assaulting police officers late Friday after a judge declared a mistrial in the case of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in 2013.
Local residents angry at the judges decision began peacefully protesting almost immediately after a jury deadlocked in the voluntary manslaughter trial of officer Randall Kerrick, who shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell. But as darkness feel, according to police, the peaceful protestors were replaced by “a younger, more aggressive group of demonstrators.”
According to CMPD, at about 9 p.m., the demonstrators began throwing rocks at officers patrolling the streets of uptown Charlotte. At that point, according to officials, the department deployed a group of officers with helmets and protective shields — a CMPD Civil Emergency Unit – to “deescalated the situation and restored order.”
For more than two hours after darkness fell, the protestors — mainly young African American males – marched through the streets of uptown Charlotte shouting at police and passers by. The group was estimated to number about 50 people. Although the protesters occasionally marched in the streets or climbed atop of cars, the protests remained generally peaceful.
A CMPD spokesman later said, “The goal of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department following the decision in the Randall Kerrick trial was to maintain a safe environment for our community and for those who wished to exercise their right to lawfully demonstrate.”
Anticipating the possibility of violence, the department had put in place a plan that would allow for peaceful protest but would draw a hard line if the protests turned toward violence or property destruction. CMPD said that plan was in place from 3. p.m. to 11:45 p.m.
Kerrick, 29, was charged with using excessive force during a September 2013 encounter with Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former Florida A&M football player who had wrecked his car on a dark road and was seeking help when he encountered officers.
Ferrell ran and Kerrick opened fire at point-blank range and killed him.
Kerrick’s case is one of several in the United States in which a white police officer has been accused of using unjustified force against an unarmed black man. The killings have touched off a nationwide debate on race and policing.
Prosecutors said they had not decided whether to retry Kerrick. Charlotte city officials agreed in May to pay Ferrell’s family $2.25 million in a civil settlement for wrongful death.
The jury of seven whites, three blacks and two Hispanics was split 8-4, though judge Robert Ervin did not reveal which way they were leaning. (Published reports later said the jury was leaning toward acquittal.)
The jury began deliberating on Tuesday afternoon after two weeks of testimony.
Soon after the mistrial was announced, a small group of protesters blocked traffic outside the Mecklenburg County courthouse. They lay face down on the pavement with hands clasped behind their backs.
“We have to stop killing our children,” Ferrell’s mother, Georgia, told reporters outside the courthouse as about 40 demonstrators crowded the entrance.
The family’s attorney, Christopher Chestnut, urged people to petition the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to retry the case.
Witnesses testified that Ferrell walked to the nearby home of Sarah McCartney after the accident and pounded on the door seeking help. McCartney thought Ferrell was trying to break in and called 911.
A dashboard camera video shows Ferrell walking toward police, then running to his left and off screen as Kerrick yells three times, “Get on the ground!”
As the two men fell into a drainage ditch, Kerrick fired 12 shots, 10 of which hit Ferrell.
The case hinges on whether Kerrick used excessive force, or it was reasonable for him to believe Ferrell represented a threat of death or serious injury.
Prosecutors argued that Ferrell made no overt threat to police. Defense attorneys said that Kerrick had no way of knowing whether Ferrell was armed and that Ferrell tried to take Kerrick’s gun.
Following Friday’s hung jury, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, who was a deputy chief at the time of the shooting, said he had no regrets about charging Kerrick.
“I think we have a professional force that is very competent…in the area of criminal investigations,” he said. “I think they did a very good job, and I think our charges were appropriate. We again defer to the jury, so we’ll see what happens as the justice system runs it course.”
The Reuters news wire contributed to this report.