Mistrial for Police Officer Who Killed Unarmed Black Man in North Carolina

Ferrell
Georgia Ferrell, the mother of Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old former Florida A&M University football player who was shot and killed in September 2013, looks on during a news conference in Charlotte, North Carolina REUTERS/Chris Keane

A North Carolina judge declared a mistrial on Friday when a jury deadlocked in the trial of a white police officer charged in the death of an unarmed black man.

Randall Kerrick, 29, faced a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the September 2013 death of 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.

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.