A shocking, tragic death has recently captured the nation’s attention and sparked widespread outrage. Johnathan Ferrell, a twenty-four-year-old former Florida A&M University football player, was shot and killed while running toward Charlotte, North Carolina police.
This case is still unfolding, but several important details have already come to light.
Police were responding to a 911 emergency call made at a home in Charlotte early in the morning. The woman who made the phone call initially thought the person at her door was her husband. Upon realizing it was a stranger, she locked the door and called 911. The 911 call sounded “frantic,” according to CNN news reports, with the woman stating, “There’s a guy breaking in my front door.”
When police arrived at the scene, they found Ferrell, who allegedly ran toward them. Officer Randall Kerrick discharged his weapon twelve times, killing Ferrell.
Police used the words “charged,” “ran,” and “advanced” in their description of Ferrell’s actions. However, it now appears that Ferrell wasn’t committing any crime or advancing toward the police to attack.
CNN reports, “Police now believe Ferrell was seeking assistance after crashing his car…The crash was so severe that authorities now believe Ferrell had to climb out of the back window.”
Ferrell ran toward the nearest house for help, which is when the woman called 911. Law enforcement later found a wrecked car close to the scene.
The police officer that fired the deadly shots, Kerrick, has been charged with voluntary manslaughter, a felony, and is now on paid leave.
Police issued a statement regarding the charges: “The evidence revealed that Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive. Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”
Kerrick is being charged criminally with the death of Ferrell, but that does not eliminate the possibility that Kerrick’s family will bring a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action separate from the criminal justice system. A family of the deceased can bring a lawsuit against the person responsible for the death, whether or not that person is found not guilty in a criminal court. (The lawsuit against O.J. Simpson is an example of this.)
That being said, bringing a wrongful death claim against a police officer is more difficult than a claim against a civilian. Law enforcement have “qualified immunity” from civil suits. Police officers are generally protected from being sued for something they did while performing their law enforcement duties.
This does not mean that police officers cannot be sued, however. It means that the burden of proof for the person bringing the claim is much higher. Mere negligence on the part of the police officer isn’t enough to win the case: the officer must have demonstrated conduct that is willful and unreasonable.
Our thoughts are with the members of the Ferrell family, who are undoubtedly devastated by the loss.
If you or a loved one have lost a family member because of the actions of another person, whether a police officer or civilian, please don’t hesitate to contact our firm’s experienced Alabama wrongful death attorneys with questions.