The fiancée of a former football player who was fatally shot ten times by a Charlotte police officer after a car accident, has a surprising message.
“I’ve forgiven him,” Caché Heidel said in an interview with NBC News. “I'm not hateful. I understand it. He was scared. It just hurts.”
Still, one month after Jonathan Ferrell’s death, Heidel is struggling with the pain of what happened that night in mid-September.
"Everything went wrong that evening that could possibly go wrong,” she said, choking back tears.
The night he never came home
Heidel said Ferrell, her 24-year-old fiancé, had dropped off a co-worker and was driving home around 2 a.m. Sept. 14 when he veered off the road, crashed, and ran to a nearby house for help.
A frightened woman thought a burglar was banging on her door and called 911.
“She was afraid,” Heidel said when asked about the woman’s response. “She had a baby. It was 2 in the morning. She just reacted on fear and that’s all that happened that night.”
When three officers arrived, police say Ferrell ran towards them. One officer used a Taser, unsuccessfully, but it’s still unclear why it didn't connect.
Then another officer, Randall Kerrick, fired 12 shots, hitting the unarmed Farrell ten times.
"It hurt me when I found out he pretty much emptied his clip," Heidel said. “It was out of fear. I do feel like he intended to kill him because he was so scared.”
She said she believes the officer had an “unconscious bias” that he didn’t realize he had “until that moment.”
"I felt like if somebody had just taken a step back and really figured out what was going wrong with him they would have known he didn't cause a threat to anybody," she said.
Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter less than 24 hours after the incident — which was uncharacteristically fast for a police-involved shooting.
His attorney, Michael Greene, declined to comment on Heidel's interview, telling NBC News that his previous statements still summarized the defense team's position.
"We are confident that at the resolution of this case, it will be found that Officer Kerrick's actions were justified," Greene said in September.
The case has sparked debate across the country. The president of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg branch of the NAACP, for one, doesn’t think the manslaughter charge is enough.
“When you find out that he shot four times, paused, (then) shot six times, paused, (then) shot two times — that was deliberate murder,” said Rev. Kojo Nantambu.
Still, the NAACP and Ferrell’s family has praised Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Moore for investigating so quickly.
"This is the only time in my career I've ever heard of a police officer being charged with a crime arising out of a shooting the same day," said Scott MacLatchie, an attorney and police training expert.
Yet some police unions are saying the quick charge will have a chilling effect on officers on patrol.
“Officers throughout this country are going to be concerned that they are going to be arrested when actions are taken that are justified,” said Daniel Trelka, the police chief in Waterloo, Iowa. “As such, someone is going to lose their life acting too slowly. “
Civil lawsuit may be next
The North Carolina attorney general is now investigating the case, but Chris Chesnut, the attorney representing Ferrell’s family, said he also plans to file a civil lawsuit.
“This is completely unreasonable,” Chestnut said. “It’s demonstrative of a lack of training. It is frightening — this unconscious bias that leads to 12 shots at an innocent, unarmed victim.”
Ferrell’s family also wants the police dashcam video to be released.
Meanwhile, Heidel is still without her 'Sweets.'
“I always called him 'Sweets' because he was the sweetest person I ever met,” Heidel said.
They had been engaged for six years after meeting during their junior year of high school. A few years later, he proposed. But they endured a long-distance relationship. He played football for Florida A&M University, but she was in graduate school in Winston-Salem, N.C.
They had recently moved to Charlotte to be together. She was an accountant. He was working two jobs to finish school. He wanted to build engines.
Heidel smiles when she remembers the moment she fell for him. They were driving home from a high school football game. He was pumping gas when he saw a woman digging through the trash. While Heidel waited in the car, she said she saw Ferrell take the woman inside the gas station and bought her food.
“He was someone who felt bad walking past the homeless person on the street,” Heidel says.
But often, she speaks of him in the present tense.
“He's my best friend.”
First published October 15 2013, 7:58 PM