City calls for Ferrell suit to go to federal court

mgordon@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 4, 2014 

City of Charlotte attorneys have asked that a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed man fatally shot by a police officer last September be moved to federal court.

In a motion filed Monday, city attorneys Mark Newbold and Daniel Peterson argue that claims by the family of Jonathan Ferrell should be heard in U.S. District Court.

The city’s request will be heard by U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen.

Ferrell’s family filed suit Jan. 13 in Mecklenburg Superior Court against the city, Police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Chief Rodney Monroe, and Mecklenburg County.

Ferrell died Sept. 14. The unarmed 24-year-old was shot 10 times by Kerrick, who was arrested that day and charged with voluntary manslaughter. Kerrick is the first CMPD officer charged in connection with an on-duty shooting in at least 30 years. He was indicted last week by a grand jury and faces trial as early as late this year.

Kerrick’s attorneys say Ferrell’s death, though tragic, was justified.

In their lawsuit, the family accuses the defendants of violating Ferrell’s civil rights. The complaint also includes allegations of wrongful death, negligence, assault and battery, and “acts of malice.”

In the city’s filing, Newbold and Peterson argue that federal courts have jurisdiction over the claims of civil rights violations while the family’s other allegations are closely enough related to be heard in the same court.

The move, which was expected, could further separate the criminal and civil actions surrounding Ferrell’s death. Next up: an expected motion by the defendants to delay the lawsuit until the criminal charges against Kerrick run their course.

Attorneys familiar with state and federal courts say the latter venue offers some advantages. Unlike Superior Court, one federal judge generally hears the case from start to finish, and the case could come to trial more quickly.

Federal juries are smaller (eight vs. 12 in Superior Court), come from a pool that covers all of western North Carolina, and attorneys can have much smaller roles in their selection.

Charles Monnett of Charlotte, one of the attorneys handling the Ferrells’ lawsuit, said Tuesday that the city’s motion was expected.

“It’s a chess move in a long process,” Monnett said. “Obviously they’re doing what they think is to their advantage, but in federal court there are advantages and disadvantages for both sides.”

Gordon: 704-358-5095

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