CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Randall Kerrick says he didn't remember how many times he fired his service weapon at an unarmed black man nearly two years ago. But the white police officer was clear in his testimony to a jury about why he considered shooting the man at all.
"He was going to attack me. He was going to assault me. He was going to take my gun from me," said the emotional Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer as he took the witness stand Thursday in his voluntary manslaughter trial.
Kerrick is expected to continue his testimony when the trial resumes Friday.
With his voice quavering, Kerrick began his testimony by saying his career goal was to be a police officer. He appeared to fight back tears when he referred to his wife, who was in the audience, and their child.
Kerrick re-created the events of Sept. 14, 2013, at one point yelling "Stop!" and "Get on the ground!" to a nearly packed courtroom as he repeated the warnings he said he gave to former Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell.
As a Mecklenburg County sheriff's deputy sat to the left of the witness box as a security measure, Kerrick told the jury that he thought his gun wasn't working because Ferrell kept coming at him.
"I thought I was going to die because I could do nothing that would stop him," Kerrick said. He said even when he freed himself after Ferrell fell on his lower legs, he kept his gun trained on him because Ferrell was still moving.
Kerrick said he thought he fired four to six times, but said he now knows it was 12 times. Authorities say he hit Ferrell 10 times. Kerrick was the only officer who fired his gun.
Some of the testimony prior to Kerrick's appearance focused on training and whether his use of deadly force was necessary. Some witnesses testified that Kerrick told them he was afraid for his life and that he thought Ferrell was going to try to take his gun.
Ferrell's death happened a little less than a year before an unarmed black man in New York and an unarmed 18-year-old black male in Ferguson, Missouri, died after separate violent encounters with police — cases that shined a national spotlight on how police departments treat minorities and sparked calls for widespread reforms. Protests and rioting followed Michael Brown's death in Ferguson and a grand jury's refusal to indict the officer. The unrest resumed this week as protesters marked the one-year anniversary of Brown's death.
Protests also followed the deaths of two unarmed black men after encounters with police earlier this year in Baltimore and South Carolina. Officers have been charged in both of those cases. Kerrick's trial, while packing the courthouse, has drawn little outside attention, perhaps because the officer was arrested and charged about 12 hours after the shooting.