Autopsy of police shooting victim: No drugs, legal blood-alcohol level

jmarusak@charlotteobserver.comNovember 1, 2013 

The autopsy of an unarmed man killed by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer in September shows he had 10 bullet wounds, including five that were fatal.

The report released Friday also revealed no illegal drugs in Jonathon Ferrell’s system. The 24-year-old had a blood-alcohol content of 0.06, which is within the legal limit of 0.08 for driving, the autopsy results also show. He also had traces of nicotine and caffeine.

On the night of Sept. 14, Ferrell wrecked his car on Reedy Creek Road in northeast Charlotte and then banged on the door of a nearby house. The woman inside the home thought someone was trying to break in and called 911.

Ferrell was shot as he approached three officers who responded to the call.

Less than 24 hours after the shooting, Officer Randall Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter. He is the first officer to be charged in an on-duty shooting in at least 30 years. The department decided Kerrick “did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon,” according to a police statement.

Five bullets struck Ferrell in the chest and were fatal, according to the autopsy report released by the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Three other bullets struck him in the shoulder and weren’t fatal, the report said. Ferrell also had gunshot wounds in his left upper arm and abdomen.

The report showed nine bullets that struck Ferrell traveled downward through the body, front to back.

Chris Chestnut, an attorney for Ferrell’s family, said that shows Ferrell was struck while he was falling down or was already down, since he was taller than Kerrick. “I think he was down to start with,” Chestnut said.

But autopsy experts told the Observer on Friday that the downward path of the bullets had only to do with their trajectory and do not suggest the position or location of Ferrell to the shooter or vice versa.

The autopsy also showed abrasions on the upper part of Ferrell’s forehead. He had a small abrasion on his lower right forearm where he was handcuffed, according to the report. It is unclear from the report how Ferrell got the abrasions on his forehead. It is standard procedure to handcuff a suspect even after he’s been shot, said Mike Bumcrot, who has followed the Ferrell case and is a California-based expert on the use of force by police.

George Laughrun, one of Kerrick’s attorneys, declined comment on the autopsy.

Chestnut said the report “confirms everything we’ve said about Jonathon Ferrell from day one: He was an All-American kid who had driven a co-worker home when he has a horrific accident, looks for help from an officer” and then is shot 10 times.

Chestnut said Ferrell’s 0.06 blood-alcohol content is irrelevant to the shooting. But he said Ferrell was within the legal limit to drive and had just driven the co-worker home.

A person of Ferrell’s weight – 225 pounds – would have to consume slightly more than five beers over two hours to reach a 0.06 blood-alcohol content, according to the University of Oklahoma Police Department’s online blood-alcohol content calculator.

“The only mental state in question is Officer Kerrick’s,” Chestnut said.

Bumcrot, who retired in 2002 from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after 33 years, said he wonders if Ferrell was injured in the wreck or was knocked unconscious and left in a state of “medical distress” when he went to seek help.

The autopsy report doesn’t address whether Ferrell suffered any injuries as a result of the late-night wreck. The cause of the wreck is not known, but it appeared to be a one-car accident.

The Medical Examiner’s Office released the report at the request of the Observer and other news media. State law says autopsy reports are public.

The autopsy report release follows Thursday’s order from Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Richard Boner about the police video from the shooting. The order blocked the Charlotte city manager and CMPD from releasing the video and gave control of the footage to the state prosecutor handling the case. Staff writers Ames Alexander and Gavin Off contributed.

Marusak: 704-358-5067 Twitter: @jmarusak

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