Judge Grants Prosecutor Control Of Police Shooting Video; Effectively Blocks Release
A judge on Thursday effectively prohibited CMPD from releasing dash-cam video footage from the death of an unarmed man who was fatally shot 10 times by a police officer.
Senior Deputy Attorney General James Coman told Superior Court Judge Richard Boner that he received a call last Saturday morning from what he calls "a reliable source," warning him that a police dashboard camera was going to be released. The video showed the shooting death of 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell.
"I immediately knew that I was going to have to take action because it was evidence and in my opinion, I was the only one that had the legal authority to release it, if I chose to do so, which I did not," Coman says.
So he contacted the defense lawyers and got a temporary restraining order against the city and CMPD to prevent them from releasing the video. He also called Judge Boner on his cell phone to explain the potential consequences of releasing the dash cam video, which he did not elaborate on in the courtroom.
"I wanted to ensure that Kerrick get a fair trial and I would have done the same thing if it had been Mr.Ferrell that needed to have the prosecutor look after," Boner says.
CMPD officer Randall Kerrick shot 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell ten times in September. Police were responding to a report of an early morning break-in, but apparently Ferrell was seeking help after wrecking his car.
CMPD charged Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter less than 24 hours after the shooting and have released a couple pieces of evidence: a 9-1-1 call and a recording between a dispatcher and another officer at the scene.
Right To A Fair Trial
Judge Boner says won't give CMPD that discretion regarding the video.
"This case needs to be tried in a courtroom, not in the pages of the Charlotte Observer or on the 6:00 newscast, so I'm going to sign the order," Boner says. "I find that this dash cam is not a public record."
But the family of Jonathan Ferrell has been asking for the release of a dash-cam video, because they say it shows a different view of what happened that night and proves that the shooting was not justified.
"The wagons are circling around this officer that killed an unarmed man," says Christopher Chestnut. Chestnut was hired as the Ferrell family's lawyer shortly after the shooting. He says he and the family are worried about whether this will be a fair trial.
"We're going to exhaust every possible resource in seeking justice and fairness for Jonathan Ferrell," Chestnut says. However, he did not say whether he would appeal the judge's order or what the time table would be. He says he is considering filing a civil suit to obtain the dash-cam video evidence through discovery.
"When you're promised something and you ask for it. You expect to get it," he says. "You don't expect to have to sue someone to get something that they've already given you their word they would give you."
But Judge Boner says he has seen too much coverage of the case in the media and he thinks releasing more evidence could taint the jury.
"I can't issue a gag order against the police department," he says. "I would admonish them and their representatives as well as counsel on both sides to hold down the amount of comments made to the media against this case."
Kerrick's next court date, a probable cause hearing, is on December 17.