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Mecklenburg DA: No Charges Against Deputy U.S. Marshal Who Shot And Killed Frankie Jennings In Charlotte

 Surveillance video released by the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office shows U.S. Marshals Service task force members trying to arrest Frankie Jennings in his car just before Jennings was shot to death on March 23.
Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office
Surveillance video released by the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office shows U.S. Marshals Service task force members trying to arrest Frankie Jennings in his car just before Jennings was shot to death on March 23.

No charges will be filed against the deputy U.S. marshal who shot and killed Frankie Jennings in east Charlotte in March, Mecklenburg County’s district attorney said Tuesday.

District Attorney Spencer Merriweather wrote that officer Eric Tillman was “reasonable in his belief that he and other officers faced an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death” when Tillman opened fire on 32-year-old Jennings on March 23.

Tillman was assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service’s Carolinas Regional Fugitive Task Force when he and others were attempting to serve warrants on Jennings that day at a gas station on The Plaza. Jennings died at the scene.

According to the report the District Attorney’s Office submitted Tuesday to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which investigated the shooting, Tillman said he saw Jennings reach for a gun that was in Jennings’ car. Tillman fired three times. A Ruger semiautomatic handgun was later recovered from the center console of Jennings’ car.

The DA’s report says a frame-by-frame analysis of surveillance video showed Jennings quickly get into his Mercedes sedan as Tillman and a second deputy marshal approached, then “reaching toward the center of the vehicle with his right hand while his left hand remained up” until the second deputy marshal began struggling with him.

Video shows that Jennings “alternated between looking at officers and back toward the center of the vehicle” as Tillman and the second deputy struggled with him, according to the report.

Merriweather’s report described video showing Jennings’ sedan moved forward and struck a task force officer’s unmarked SUV that had pulled in to block the way. At that point, the SUV blocks the camera's view of the sedan with Jennings and the task force officers.

“The evidence suggests it was at this point that Senior Inspector Tillman fired his weapon,” Merriweather wrote.

Jennings was shot within 13 seconds of officers pulling up.

According to the report, video evidence was obtained by surveillance cameras and body-worn cameras from CMPD officers who later arrived on the scene. Deputy marshals were not wearing body cameras and their vehicles were not equipped with recording devices. Tillman was the only officer who fired a weapon.

Merriweather said Tillman had been advised that Jennings had been previously accused of shooting into a vehicle and of “dragging a law enforcement officer alongside a vehicle after officers made contact with him.”

“At any trial of this matter, Senior Inspector Tillman’s subjective belief that the decedent posed an imminent threat to his life or the life of others would be an issue for the jury,” Merriweather wrote to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings, who is not related to Frankie Jennings. “The knowledge Senior Inspector Tillman possessed with regard to the allegations of the defendant informed his subjective beliefs and would be admissible evidence for the jury to consider.”

A vigil was held for Jennings on the night of his shooting at the gas station.

You can read District Attorney Spencer Merriweather's full report here.

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.
Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.