Bad Cop Blotter

Another Unarmed Man Meets Trigger-Happy Police

By Lucy Steigerwald

North Carolina cop Randall Kerrick (left) shot and killed Jonathan A. Ferrell (right) early Saturday morning. The officer is now being charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Everyone who believes cops don’t get punished for their mistakes should be pleasantly surprised by the swiftness of the charge of voluntary manslaughter that have been slapped on North Carolina cop Randall Kerrick. That's appropriate given that the officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department shot and killed 24-year-old former Florida* A&M football player Jonathan A. Ferrell on Saturday morning.

Ferrell got in a nasty car accident around 2:30 AM and went looking for help (it's unclear whether he was injured or in shock). He ended up frantically banging on the door of a woman waiting for her husband to return from work—when she didn’t recognize the man outside, she called the police.

Three officers arrived on what they thought was a breaking and entering situation (which is a strange conclusion to come to if someone was knocking). Soon after they arrived, Ferrell “charged” the cops and they Tased him, apparently to no effect. Kerrick then fired repeatedly at the young man, though none of the other officers seem to have done so.

It's awful every time an unarmed person gets killed for no reason, but since Ferrell was black, you also have to wonder what part, if any, his race played in this. Would the homeowner have dialed 911 if it had been a white guy outside her door? Would Kerrick have drawn his gun on an unarmed white man?

Just about the only silver lining in this ugly situation is that at least the officer responsible didn’t walk free. Kerrick turned himself in on Saturday and was freed Sunday evening on $50,000 bond. The officers who were with him during the shooting are now on administrative leave, a common procedure in all police departments after the death of a suspect. If you can call Ferrell that.

Now on to this week’s other bad cops:

- After an encounter with the Tallahassee Police Department on August 10, Christina West wound up with a broken orbital bone in her face as well as a swollen nose and facial cuts. Now her lawyer is claiming she was a victim of police brutality—and surprisingly, the Florida state attorney seems to agree. Not that there’s a whole lot in dispute: West was arrested after drunkenly driving her car into a (thankfully empty) house, and during her arrest the cops smashed her face against the hood of their squad car and the pavement. The entire incident was captured on dashcam footage, which shows West being disagreeable and drunk and the cops being patient with her until, abruptly, they snap and manhandle her to the ground while she screams. (Her injuries were bad enough that when the officers brought West into custody, they were told to take her to a hospital instead.) The charges of battery on law enforcement officers have been dropped. Even though West was obnoxious, drunk, and could have killed someone, she didn’t deserve to have her face broken when she was already in custody. The moral of the story is, there’s a reason the police should be filmed while they're on duty.

- Speaking of the Tallahassee Police Department, it was recently reported that out of the 2,285 reports of officers using force documented between 2010 and 2012, the department ruled only three to be unjustified. Those numbers seem, um, a little hard to believe. But now that the video of West being bullied has gone viral, the chief of police is taken what is being called “early retirement” starting on October 5. Hopefully the new guy will make some changes.

- On Saturday, New York Police Department officers were pursuing an erratic man who was running through traffic near Times Square. When he supposedly reached towards his waistband, two NYPD cops opened fire, fearing he was going for a weapon—but they missed, hitting a 54-year-old woman in the knee and a 35-year-old woman in the butt. Neither were badly injured, and the disturbed man was also unhurt. He was found to have no weapon on him and was taken to Bellevue mental hospital for evaluation. It’s as happy an ending to a story that involves the police firing guns in crowds can have. 

- An 18-year-old student at Allatoona High School in Acworth, Georgia, was arrested for having a three-inch pocket knife in his car while on school property. On September 5, a classmate of Andrew Williams reported that his car had a weed smell coming from it. (Editor’s note: C’mon dude, why can’t you chill out about that shit?) A search by assistant principal Sam Sanford turned up nothing but eau de Mary Jane and that tiny blade. Williams, who said he kept the knife in his car in case he ever needed to cut his seatbelt off, was arrested by the school police for carrying a weapon in a school safety zone, a felony that carries two to ten years in prison. Hopefully a prosecutor or a judge will realize how ridiculous this is—the last thing we need is more children being arrested for minor infractions.

- On Thursday at 4 AM, a SWAT team entered a Savannah, Georgia, home searching for suspected gang member Jashavious Keel, but instead busted in on an innocent couple. Michael Hall and his wife describe hearing a “kaboom”—probably the sound of their door being turned to wood pulp and four of their windows being broken. They were screamed at and briefly cuffed before police realized Keel wasn’t in the home after a search. While nobody in the family had ever heard of Keel, the gang member put down their address as his place of residence in court documents, maybe to fool the police into going to the wrong house. The city or county government will be paying for the damage to the Halls’ house.

- On Friday, a family in Middletown, Delaware, filed suit in US district court over a SWAT raid they suffered last year. In a familiar-sounding story, Steve Tuppeny was in his garage early one October morning when a SWAT team appeared and demanded that he fall to the floor with his hands up. According to Tuppeny, cops refused to explain why they were there and pointed their guns at his wife Jennifer and their eight-year-old daughter, who had been asleep. The family was kept cuffed in the living room and offered only a business card with a number to call with any complaints. The suspect police sought hadn’t lived there in at least four years. The Wilmington police chief apologized the next day, but an outraged Tuppeny is still pretty pissed. “I’m lying on the garage floor at gunpoint and they are invading my home terrorizing my family,” he told the press last year. “This is America.” Sorry, Steve. SWAT raids are as American as apple pie and football at this point.

- As if that weren’t enough news about mistaken SWAT raids, in Toulminville, Alabama, Vincent White is considering a lawsuit against the cops who wrongly targeted his home based on the testimony of an informant back in February. White didn’t get the full-on SWAT treatment—officers even knocked!—but according to his complaint, they still came to door at 9 AM and made him lie down in handcuffs, which was a hardship for him since he’d had abdominal surgery two weeks before. Officials have brushed this one off with various “mistakes happen” excuses.

- Our Good Cop of the Week is Wyoming, Minnesota, officer Scott Booecker, whose story sounds like a particularly corny after-school special. The bike cop has mad BMX skills, yo, and footage of him doing tricks at a bike park has made him a viral video star. It’s pure feel-good local-news fluff, but Booecker and his chief, who approve of his 45-year-old officer showing off his talent, actually sound like exactly what we need more of. Booecker is engaging with the local community and showing a more human side of the police than those hit by SWAT raids ever see.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter: @lucystag

Previously: Even the EPA Is Using SWAT Teams Now

*Correction: Ferrell went to Florida A&M, not Texas A&M as was originally written.

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