When Randall Met Jonathan: A Story Of A Shooting

Law, Politics & Current Events

Recently a man named Randall encountered a man named Jonathan in the early hours of the morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. Randall had a gun; Jonathan did not. Jonathan may have been agitated and confused, possibly from just having crashed his car. Their encounter concluded with Randall firing twelve times at Jonathan at close range and hitting him ten times, killing him. Neither man had a criminal record.

Prosecutors have charged Randall with voluntary manslaughter, a fairly light charge for shooting an unarmed man ten times. But Randall's supporters are outraged. They say Randall was charged too quickly, that an investigation of a man like Randall shooting an unarmed man like Jonathan ten times usually takes months. They say that charging Randall represents a rush to judgment. They say that charging Randall will chill and intimidate men like him out and about in the world from discharging their firearms in situations like the late-night encounter in Charlotte, North Carolina. They say that Randall didn't give up his constitutional rights when he walked into a police station, but he's being treated like he did. They're saying that Randall isn't getting a "fair shake" by being so quickly charged with manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man ten times. They're saying that when there's a shooting the best evidence comes out slowly, over time. They're saying Randall is presumed innocent and should be treated as such.

Are Randall's friends civil rights activists? Are they defense attorneys? Are they part of some community used to unfair prosecutions?

No.

They're police. See, Randall is a cop. His supporters are other cops, and police unions.

“People are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said James Pasco Jr., the national executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, “and police officers are no exception. You don’t check your civil rights at the station house door.”

He said most departments took their time with investigations because they wanted to be thorough.

“They go very carefully. One thing to remember in the case of a shooting, generally speaking, the most accurate information will come out over a period of time,” Mr. Pasco said.

“Another thing,” he continued, “is that participants in a shooting — whether they were the shooter, whether they were shot or whether they were just there — all tend to suffer to a degree from post-traumatic shock for at least a short period of time. And that’s why the best and most accurate information is usually gathered from these folks 48 to 72 hours after the event.”

Mr. Pasco is right.

Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Nobody checks their civil rights at the station house door — whether they enter there with a badge, or in handcuffs. Sometimes the most accurate information about a crime doesn't come out in the first few hours. A rush to judgment can lead to wrong assumptions, and the criminal justice system can stubbornly cling to those assumptions rather than change course once charges have been filed.

The criminal justice system ignores those ideas every day.

Will Mr. Pasco be articulating those principles next time someone is accused of assault on a police officer? Will he be articulating them next time anyone who is not a cop is accused of anything? Will any of Officer Randall Kerrick's supporters tout the presumption of innocence, or the fallibility of witnesses, or equality before the law next time they discuss a defendant who doesn't wear a badge?

Or have they discovered these principles because Officer Kerrick is one of them, and therefore entitled to things that the rest of us are not?

Randall Kerrick should receive due process of law. But he doesn't deserve it because he's a cop. Deserve's got nothing to do with it. He should receive due process of law because we should extend it to everyone, good and bad and checkered, cop and civilian. He should not receive more, or less, due process just because the thin blue line forms behind him.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Darryl  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:08 am

    Great post. One quibble–I wouldn't call non-cops "civilians." That merely plays into the whole militarization of the police force. There are police officers and people who are not police officers. Unless they are in the military, it makes no sense to call others "civilians."

  2. That Anonymous Coward  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:15 am

    If only they had taken the time to investigate why Jonathan was seeking their help.

  3. SIV  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:15 am

    Randall Kerrick will get a "fairer shake" when he is allowed to defend himself before the grand jury, unlike ordinary citizens.

  4. melK  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:24 am

    @SIV: By "defending himself before the grand jury", you mean his lawyer doing the defending, yes? Does bearing witness before a grand jury automatically break your rights not to testify at trial?

  5. Waldo  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:29 am

    I'm all aboard the everyone deserves to be treated equally before the law and have the presumption of innocence bus. But, should it really take MONTHS to investigate an incident like this? Talk to the witnesses, do whatever forensics need to be done, have the lawyers review facts as applied to the law, and either charge the guy or don't. Maybe there's some additional things that need to be done, but I have a hard time imagining that it should take months.

  6. Larry W  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:36 am

    Are they part of some community used to unfair prosecutions?

    No.

    They're police.

    My naïveté will not be contained: I'm unable to think of a community less accustomed to unfair prosecutions.

    Oh… you mean on the receiving end. Nevermind. ;-)

    But their reaction does demonstrate their knowledge that fairness is not a given.

  7. Dion starfire  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:41 am

    @Ken Your assumption about the cops future behavior and the reasons* behind it are no different than the cops (the ones you complain about, at least) attitude towards people they deal with.

    Both your jobs brings you into contact with a disproportionate quantity of negative examples. (Most of the cops you deal with are not being fair and impartial, most people the cops deal with aren't honest, neighborly folks).

    In other words, when you're working in the sewers you tend to think the world is full of sh*t.

  8. David  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:51 am

    BLUESPHEMY!!!

  9. NI  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:52 am

    I question whether law enforcement thinks there is such a thing as a fair prosecution against a police officer. Over the years I've had multiple opportunities to see the thin blue line form behind police officers charged with some fairly atrocious things. I don't recall a single case in which the police, as a group, acknowledged that one of their own had acted badly and deserved whatever prosecution was coming his way.

  10. Just Plain Brian  •  Oct 14, 2013 @10:20 am

    I don't recall a single case in which the police, as a group, acknowledged that one of their own had acted badly and deserved whatever prosecution was coming his way.

    It happens a bit – remember Chris Dorner? You just have to "go against the family" first.

  11. JTM  •  Oct 14, 2013 @10:28 am

    @David "BLUESPHEMY!!!"

    Worst. Blue's Clues episode. Ever.

  12. Bill  •  Oct 14, 2013 @10:30 am

    @Just Plain Brian – I'll have to find her name, but Radley Balko had another example where a female officer reported another officer of something pretty vile, I believe it was beating someone up really badly. I'll find the link. Go to policeOne.com sometime, they're with every cop out there no matter what, unless they speak the truth about cops doing illegal stuff, then you're dead to them

  13. Reformed Republican  •  Oct 14, 2013 @10:31 am

    “People are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said James Pasco Jr.

    People like Jonathan?

    And if cops become less likely to shoot people, I think that would be a positive development.

  14. Bill  •  Oct 14, 2013 @10:33 am

    @Dion:

    Most cops are not fair and impartial, some people the cops deal with aren't honest, neighborly folks.

    FTFY

  15. Sertorius  •  Oct 14, 2013 @12:32 pm

    I agree with Reformed Republican, cops should hesitate before killing people. I actually think the standard for them should be higher than for an armed citizen in similar circumstances. This was what I found most troubling in that article:

    “My concern is we’re going to have an officer — any officer someplace in the country — hesitate when they are justified in taking action and lose their life,” he said.

    The chief problem with law enforcement, in my opinion, is that "officer safety" trumps all other considerations, including bystander/suspect safety. Police officers used to accept a certain amount of risk. Now, anything that reduces officer risk must be done, even if risk to others is greatly increased (see SWAT raids, etc).

  16. Allen  •  Oct 14, 2013 @1:44 pm

    Maybe Officer Kerrick didn't realize he was talking to police officers after the shooting and they might do something with his statements. Or, perhaps he thought he could straighten things out.

    It would appear that even cops need to learn about, Shut the hell up.

  17. Malc.  •  Oct 14, 2013 @1:52 pm

    One of the issues that seems to have been forgotten in this country is the maxim that it's not enough that justice be done, rather justice must be seen to be done.

    We see that when judges refuse to recuse themselves when there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, on the basis that they (the judges) claim that the appearance is not the reality.

    We see that with politicians refusing and/or being reluctant to disclose financial dealings on the basis that they aren't engaging in dodgy dealings and, hey, their brother-in-law's cousin was the best bidder.

    And we see that with cops, in spades. As @Sertorius notes, rather than holding cops to a higher standard (in not, say, shooting people, dogs, and things without a true threat to their safety), we hear them demanding to be held to a lower standard: because they are cops, we should absolve them of any acts of unwarranted mayhem, because they are trained to deal with difficult situations… obviously, they are badly trained or trained badly, but that seems to be the rationale.

  18. perlhaqr  •  Oct 14, 2013 @2:03 pm

    Hey! You were trying to trick me into feeling bad for a cop, before letting me know it was a cop!

    But… *sigh* I suppose even cops deserve to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Probably. Maybe.

  19. AlphaCentauri  •  Oct 14, 2013 @2:26 pm

    In my city, criminal investigations of cops take a long time because internal affairs investigates first. Apparently his superiors were satisfied they didn't need to discipline him, and the DA then stepped up to take his/her turn. Whose fault was that?

  20. Shane  •  Oct 14, 2013 @2:34 pm

    @Sertorius

    I actually think the standard for them should be higher than for an armed citizen in similar circumstances.

    I disagree, I think that they should be at the same level as regular Joe that is armed. Because danger is danger, regardless of the clothes that you are wearing. And with that they should face the same judicial system that regular Joe faces, on the same footing with the same consequences.

    Since this would never happen, I can see the merits of holding to a higher standard. Doing this however creates an untenable position because truth is that being "more" trained doesn't really equate to a major difference between regular Joe and officer Friendly in a deadly force situation. And this division or lack there of, is the reason why police are never held to a higher standard no matter how stupid or heinous their actions.

  21. Alistair  •  Oct 14, 2013 @2:38 pm

    I may have noted here, or maybe elsewhere on the Internet, but I sometimes have see episodes of the American TV show "Cops". The one with the "Bad boys" title music.
    After a few minutes, I invariably start feeling vaguely uncomfortable with the way the Police act towards the people they confront. The Police often seem just as poorly educated and violent as the "perps".
    I wonder if that is actually how the Police are in America. I know it's a big country and standards are surely different from place to place, but in the few interactions I have had with police here in New Zealand, I've found them to be universally pleasant and professional. Also they don't routinely carry guns which is nice.

  22. Gbear711  •  Oct 14, 2013 @2:51 pm
  23. dmather  •  Oct 14, 2013 @3:28 pm

    I'm not a gambling man, but I'd put money that the cop gets off. After all, his job is to protect the public safety, sacrificing a few US citizens is a small price to pay for public safety.

    I wonder what will happen if the majority of the public wakes up and realizes that current government and law enforcement policies ARE the greatest threat to public safety! (I am not referencing any particular political party here so this is not an attack on a political party.)

  24. En Passant  •  Oct 14, 2013 @3:41 pm

    Something in the NYT story doesn't add up:

    Officer Kerrick and two other officers responded to the call. They found Mr. Ferrell on a road that led only to the neighborhood’s pool. Mr. Ferrell ran toward the officers, who tried to stop him with a Taser. The officers said he continued to run toward them, and Officer Kerrick fired 12 shots, hitting Mr. Ferrell with all but two. He died at the scene.

    Consider these reasonably well known quantities:

    Taser range: 15-30 feet.

    Normal human sprint running pace: ~22 feet per second, or ~15 MPH maximum.

    Rounds fired by Randall Kerrick after they tried to stop him with a taser but "he continued to run toward them": 12 rounds.

    If Jonathan "continued to run", he would have covered the ~30 feet of outermost taser range in 2 seconds or less. During this time Randall fired off 12 rounds?

    That's 6 rounds per second or better. And apparently well placed too, since 10 hit Jonathan. From a semiauto service weapon? I don't think so.

    So, maybe they "tried to stop him with a taser" while he was out of taser range, more than 30 feet distant. Or maybe he didn't really "continue to run toward them" in any way that would be normal human running. Or maybe what?

    The story just doesn't add up. Maybe Randall's story didn't add up either, and that's why he was charged.

  25. BradnSA  •  Oct 14, 2013 @3:58 pm

    I'm a 45 year old law and order conservative, and I'm tired of this crap.

    Cops need to lose a significant amount of the immunity (both legal and implied) they get with their jobs, and maybe they would think twice before instances like this.

  26. Dan Weber  •  Oct 14, 2013 @4:33 pm

    I was waiting for this to show up here.

    How do you justify shooting someone 10 times? If you need to shoot, you of course shoot until you don't need to shoot, but once he is down don't you stop shooting?

    On the thin blue line the Village Voice also broke the story of that cop recording other cops. This American Life covered it, too. Whatever happened to that department?

  27. Ghost  •  Oct 14, 2013 @4:41 pm

    Bill, her name is Regina Tasca, and she was fired for stopping police brutality.

  28. Chris  •  Oct 14, 2013 @5:15 pm

    How do you justify shooting someone 10 times? If you need to shoot, you of course shoot until you don't need to shoot, but once he is down don't you stop shooting?

    At relatively close range a good pistol shooter can put ten rounds into a target in 2-3 seconds.

    Stopping shooting based on the effect shots are having on the target requires: 1) the shots to have an effect on the target, 2) that effect to become visible, 3) the shooter to perceive that effect that his shots are having, and 4) make the decision to stop shooting. These four steps can easily take more than 2-3 seconds.

  29. Malc.  •  Oct 14, 2013 @5:17 pm

    Another random thought: cops seem to have got themselves to a point where "failure to respond to commands" equates to a threat to the cop's life, justifying the use of deadly force.

  30. Quartermaster  •  Oct 14, 2013 @5:21 pm

    Cops are civilians too. They sure aren't military, even if they act like it a lot of times.

    It would be nice if the Cops would recognize the due process of law for everyone instead of, as they so often do, ignore it when they aren't the object of the law's fury. Alas, though, Cops are among the worst scofflaws in our society.

  31. Kirk Taylor  •  Oct 14, 2013 @5:32 pm

    Not defending killer cops, but, they should not be held to a higher standard, and they should not be held to a lower standard. They should be held to a different standard. Or, more accurately, an appropriate standard.

    What I mean is, a police officer pursuing an armed suspect should have a lower threshold for deadly force. A non police officer should not be pursuing an armed suspect.

    Equating police and non-police ignores appropriate differences in environment and expected behavior. Entering a known (assume they don't f**k up the address) drug haven with known to be armed criminals requires a standard completely different from anything a non-cop should ever face.

    Within these environmental differences, however, they should be expected to act within proper protocols, and be held accountable when they don't.

    That said, I'm pretty sure this would be a "held accountable" situation.

  32. That Anonymous Coward  •  Oct 14, 2013 @5:38 pm

    @Malc. – Contempt of cop, sudden death round?

  33. Tarrou  •  Oct 14, 2013 @6:13 pm

    Am I too cynical? My first thought was "10 for 12? This guy has to be the best police shot EVER!".

    And for those who wonder, a well-trained and practiced pistol shot can drop 12 rounds in a few seconds with "minute of chest cavity" accuracy. All the more surprising that a cop managed it.

    For comparison, the world record is Jerry Miculek firing twelve rounds from a six-shot revolver (with a reload between cylinders) in 2.98 seconds. With a semi-auto? No problem, physically speaking.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLk1v5bSFPw

    I'll join those who say the shoot looks bad. A jury will decide. But if Zimmerman taught us anything, it should be that first reports (and tenth, and fiftieth) are not to be trusted. The media is lying. No matter what, they are lying. This guy may deserve a rope, I don't know. But I do know better than to trust any reporter, ever.

  34. JW  •  Oct 14, 2013 @6:44 pm

    I'm fairly certain that if the roles were reversed and Johnathan shot Randall, Johnathan would be accorded the same courtesy and be walking the streets a free man, until the investigation was concluded. It's how the justice system is supposed to work.

    **whoa**

    Sorry, the drugs just wore off. Johnathan would be quickly killed in an "accident." Trucks lose their brakes, pianos fall from great heights, guns just discharge for no reason. These things happen.

  35. PeterM  •  Oct 14, 2013 @7:53 pm

    What strikes me here is that the critics seem to be reacting as if the guy has been convicted and sentenced already. Charge equals presumption of guilt. Has this attitude become so ingrained? Perhaps it is when the suspect is not a cop.

  36. Kirk Taylor  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:18 pm

    He gets a presumption of innocence from the courts. I can think whatever the hell I want.

  37. gramps  •  Oct 14, 2013 @9:52 pm

    Kirk Taylor is correct.

    That said, here's this: Had this been a one-on-one situation, resorting to deadly force so quickly (apparently) might be justified, or at least earn a bit more thought on the prosecution decision. But it was not one-on-one, it was three-on-one, in the cops' favor. These things often end up in a wrestling match and the application of some wood or mace. Going lethal in this situation doesn't look good.

    For those analyzing closing speed, shooting speed and shot-group, do not ignore the concept of back-pedaling by the shooter. It is often a useful tactic to gain time and distance. And, not all hits that prove lethal will stop a charging target, in that a "single shot stop" does not exist with a handgun.

    And don't forget the "social factor". A black guy shot by a white cop. Lengthy consideration of things can give social unrest an opportunity to fester. He stands charged with possibly the least of the possible offenses that result in loss of life. This way the DA does not have to explain a decision not to charge.

  38. Alex  •  Oct 14, 2013 @10:36 pm

    Maybe I'm being naive, but doesn't our legal system have a higher standard requirement for those considered to be specially trained and licensed? Trained medical professionals have a higher standard than non-trained people. Lawyers have a higher standard than non-lawyers. Why don't police have a much higher standard than non-LEO people? It seems to me that someone trained and specializing in the field of protection and defense (as a cop is supposed to be) should have a higher standard of care applied when they shoot someone and claim defense (at least partly because they should be trained to not only be more discriminating regarding what is actually life threatening and less likely to respond in base fear mode but also because they should be trained in non-lethal methods of subduing people).

  39. Dan  •  Oct 14, 2013 @11:13 pm

    @Shane: I disagree. Police are supposed to be the ones upholding a standard, one which says that people are innocent before proved guilty, one which says that people should not be killed without just cause. They are supposed to be "better" than the rest of us; why, then, shouldn't they be held to a higher standard? Why should they get the "benefit of the doubt" when the average citizen is not? If they truly are "better" than the rest of us, they should act that way; they are afforded liberties and privledges that the rest of us don't enjoy.

    I understand that police have a hard, hard job, and they are witness to the worst of humanity. However, whenever I've worked a hard job, with a lot of responsibility, I've had a lot of accountability. And I don't see that with the police. Civilian review boards should be the norm; IAD should be the exception. Letting the police police their own doesn't work, just like letting criminals investigate themselves wouldn't work.

  40. Dan  •  Oct 14, 2013 @11:17 pm

    @Alex: it depends on the jurisdiction. I grew up in Detroit, and in one of our poorer suburbs, Inkster, the only requirement to become a peace officer is to have a high school diploma.

    A friend of mine joined and became a SWAT medic. I still remember the night before his first crackhouse raid; the city didn't provide body armor or a side arm for medical personnel. He was scared as hell because he had managed to scrape together enough money for his side arm, but not enough for a kevlar vest. He tried to get excused from raids until he could afford a vest, but was told, no, he'd have to participate, or he'd be fired.

  41. Jerry  •  Oct 15, 2013 @4:20 am

    There's a quote in the newspaper article – I think from a union rep – that there was a rush to question the shooter, that it's "well known" that you give the witness/participant 24 hours or even significantly more before questioning them so that they can get over their shock and get their memories sorted out.

    This struck me as an absurd statement, exactly contrary to the way one should gather evidence. I would think you would want the testimony taken as quickly as possible, before people start planning and revising their stories – or even getting together to agree on what "really happened". You would certainly come back and ask the questions again, but the earlier you get witnesses to commit to what they saw, the more likely it is you'll get an unvarnished view.

    Can someone with experience on investigative technique comment?

    (At least in many of the fictionalized versions, police get to put off questioning and even simple things like alcohol tests in many cases where the ordinary citizen gets to sit in an interrogation room for hours, answering – or not. The theoretical justification seems to be that the police are, with respect to departmental proceedings, obligated to answer, even if for criminal purposes they can refuse. In practice, the departmental proceedings are usually wrist slaps at worst, and the net effect is to allow that Solid Blue Wall to be built before the first question is ever answered.)

    – Jerry

  42. Chris  •  Oct 15, 2013 @6:55 am

    There's a quote in the newspaper article – I think from a union rep – that there was a rush to question the shooter, that it's "well known" that you give the witness/participant 24 hours or even significantly more before questioning them so that they can get over their shock and get their memories sorted out.

    This struck me as an absurd statement, exactly contrary to the way one should gather evidence. I would think you would want the testimony taken as quickly as possible, before people start planning and revising their stories – or even getting together to agree on what "really happened". You would certainly come back and ask the questions again, but the earlier you get witnesses to commit to what they saw, the more likely it is you'll get an unvarnished view.

    Actually, the union rep is quite correct in this case. After a violent, life-or-death confrontation, your memories are more likely to be accurate 24 hours after the event than they are just a few minutes or hours after. Creating accurate memories is not a priority in a fight or flight situation, and the brain needs time to process these sorts of events.

    Of course, when the police are questioning citizen suspects they are likely to ignore this and question them immediately, unless those suspects insist on their right not to answer questions.

  43. Lawrence  •  Oct 15, 2013 @7:09 am

    Wait 24 hours before questioning the shooter? How about questioning the two other police officers who were there & did not feel the need to discharge their weapons?

    Seems to me, they probably were questioned & what they offered was enough to pursue charges….

  44. Tarrou  •  Oct 15, 2013 @7:18 am

    @ Jerry,

    From both a psychological and experience perspective, I can confirm that memory takes a while to "settle" after an incident of extreme stress. Questioning immediately afterward will be highly colored by the emotional reaction. For instance, a few weeks back I was a witness to quite a violent car crash, a man ran a red light and T-boned an older lady. I ran over to check for injuries/fire/etc. The guy was fine, but the woman was hurt, and she just kept repeating "oh my god, I hit him" even though she had the right of way, and he had hit her. I asked her what her name was…."oh my god, I hit him", was she in pain, "oh my god I hit him". She was still repeating it when the ambulance came ten minutes later and the medics took over. The human brain doesn't work on adrenaline. You have to give it time to adjust. Yes, this time also provides opportunity to gin up a lie, but honesty right after a traumatic event is unlikely to provide anything related to reality. As a cop, the subject of this inquiry was unlikely to have afforded any normal suspect such decency, but there it is.

  45. Ryan  •  Oct 15, 2013 @1:40 pm

    @Jerry

    here's a quote in the newspaper article – I think from a union rep – that there was a rush to question the shooter, that it's "well known" that you give the witness/participant 24 hours or even significantly more before questioning them so that they can get over their shock and get their memories sorted out.

    This struck me as an absurd statement, exactly contrary to the way one should gather evidence. I would think you would want the testimony taken as quickly as possible, before people start planning and revising their stories – or even getting together to agree on what "really happened". You would certainly come back and ask the questions again, but the earlier you get witnesses to commit to what they saw, the more likely it is you'll get an unvarnished view.

    Can someone with experience on investigative technique comment?

    Yup.

    It's being widely taught in interviewing courses – which are backed up by a stack of psychology papers – that the best statements are not taken immediately after an incident, but often 1-5 days afterward. It gives the person giving the statement time to process events and order them in their heads without the interfering effects of adrenaline and stress. Or as much stress as at the time of the incident, anyway.

    It helps to understand human memory. We don't actually remember linear sequences of events, we remember specifics "chunks" and then fit them together. Memories are actually quite flawed, and are never a good record of events either (one of the main reasons why most eyewitness testimony should be thrown out); we fill in gaps in memory by actually creating new memories that never actually happened, but allow us to generate sequences.

    You don't want to wait so long to take the statement that it allows the person making the statement too much reflection time, but too little is actually just as bad. And all memory-based statements should always been understood to be a flawed record from the outset.

  46. CJK Fossman  •  Oct 16, 2013 @12:15 pm

    @All speculating about the number of shots

    IIRC the training is to empty the weapon. Once you've decided to take a life, make sure you succeed.

  47. JohnMc  •  Oct 24, 2013 @7:12 pm

    I wonder if the FOP would take the same stance where there is video? We have that situation here in Dallas where a officer shot a man, caught on video, then falsified his incidient report. Now just today 9 days later he has been fired and is pending charges.

    The officers lawyer who I am assuming is a FOP affiliated entity has been saying there was more than just the video. He was right. 2 additional bystanders have come forward validating what occured in the video itself.

    It does not take a long time to ascertain probable cause when you have creditable witnesses, reasonable video and a partner who recants after the fact.