No charges will be filed against the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who shot and killed Danquirs Franklin outside a Burger King in March.
District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said Wednesday that he and a dozen prosecutors unanimously said they could not convince a jury that officer Wende Kerl was not justified in shooting Franklin.
But Merriweather wrote that it appeared Franklin was complying with the officer’s instructions to drop his gun, and he called the shooting tragic.
When police officers responded to a 911 call about a man with a gun at the Beatties Ford Road Burger King, they found Franklin kneeling beside a car.
The passenger door was open. The restaurant manager was inside the car.
According to Merriweather’s report released Wednesday, officer Kerl told investigators she did not see Franklin holding a gun when she arrived.
But she said she couldn’t fully see Franklin’s hands, and she said she wasn’t taking any chances. She said she had given him multiple commands to “drop the weapon,” and to “let me see your hands.”
She said he seemed to be “contemplating something.” Officer Kerl said she wanted him to acknowledge her in some way, like tell her “I’m going to drop the weapon.”
Merriweather wrote that – after numerous commands - Kerl’s body-worn camera shows that Franklin was in the process of putting the gun on the ground moments before he was shot.
And he said the footage shows Franklin saying “You told me to…” right after he was shot. He said that evidence alone makes the shooting “all the more tragic.”
Merriweather told WFAE that Franklin’s final words were “a suggestion of compliance.”
But he added that, “as far as the legal assessment of how we could proceed in this case, it’s about what happened, and the circumstances, at the time the officer fired their weapon.”
Merriweather said he was able to watch the body camera footage in slow motion. But in real time, officer Kerl only had seconds to decide what to do.
“We’re not even asked on whether it was the right thing to do,” Merriweather said. “The question is whether or not it was reasonable for the person who took lethal action to believe there was an imminent risk or serious harm to herself or others. And whether we could prove it was unreasonable.”
Merriweather said the decision against prosecuting was unanimous.
“There were 12 prosecutors in this case that reviewed this case,” he said. “And these are some of the most senior prosecutors in our office, and it was a unanimous decision that we could not proceed.”
Merriweather also said the body camera footage contradicted what Kerl told officers after the shooting. He said she told investigators that she gave Franklin commands after he took out his gun, “but multiple reviews of the body worn cameras don’t bear that out. In fact, the evidence suggests she does not give commands after the gun was drawn.”
Merriweather’s decision doesn’t surprise to Robert Dawkins of the SAFE Coalition because standards are high to convict an officer.
“The only way for an officer to be guilty, is to be guilty of doing something that the average officer in his situation would not do, is a legal precedent that makes it almost impossible to get an officer convicted unless they do something just seriously over the top like shoot you with your back turned,” Dawkins said.
Merriweather’s report describes mayhem at the Burger King before officers arrived.
Franklin was upset that a restaurant employee – the mother of his two children – was dating another employee at the restaurant.
The report said Franklin had jumped on the counter, flashing the gun. One BK employee told investigators that Franklin had threatened to kill the man he was looking for.
The mother of Franklin’s children said he had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
Merriweather said Franklin did not deserve to die over those violent actions – but they also would have made prosecution difficult.
And the DA points to an interview with the store manager, who was sitting inside the car, and talking to Franklin.
“The passenger at one point was able to calm down Mr. Franklin and hugged him,” Merriweather said.
But when Franklin pulled out his gun, the manager told investigators that “I didn’t know if I was getting ready to get shot or whatever.”
“Even that gentleman suggests some uncertainty as to what was going to happen next and whether his life was at risk,” Merriweather said.
CMPD chief Kerr Putney said the department will review its own policies related to the shooting.
“Now we have an internal investigation that will continue and we’ll figure out all the other missing pieces that we have to do within our policies to make sure no policies are violated, and we move forward,” Putney said.
He also said the Citizens Review Board will evaluate the shooting sometime in the coming weeks, and said Officer Kerl is still on administrative leave.