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Police release 911 tape in fatal police shooting

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MITCH WEISS | September 17, 2013 06:01 PM EST | AP

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A sobbing woman pleads for police to "please hurry" because a man was breaking into her front door during a 911 call recorded moments before a responding officer shot and killed the unarmed man outside.

The unidentified woman kept repeating "Oh, my god! Oh, my god!" throughout the call, which was released Tuesday. She also told the 911 operator that she had a baby in a crib and didn't know what to do. Later, she said the man knocked on her door and "he's in my front yard yelling."

Authorities said Jonathan A. Ferrell was shot 10 times by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg officer after being involved in a single-car wreck. Police have said Ferrell may have been seeking help and made no verbal threats to the woman.

Officer Randall Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter. His lawyers were in court Tuesday for a first appearance on the charge. Kerrick, 27, did not attend. The judge scheduled an Oct. 7 probable cause hearing for Kerrick.

After the hearing, defense attorney Michael Greene declined to take questions but said of Kerrick: "His actions were justified on the night in question."

Ferrell family attorney Chris Chestnut disagreed, saying he watched a video of the shooting recorded by a dash cam on one of the patrol cars. Chestnut said the tape shows that Kerrick fired four shots, then paused. Moments later, the officer fired six more rounds and paused again before firing the last two shots.

"This is clearly a criminal shooting," he told the Associated Press.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police refused the AP's request to release the tape, saying it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Kerrick joined the police force in April 2011 after working as an animal control officer. He grew up in nearby Cabarrus County.

Kerrick and two other officers responding to the breaking and entering call found Ferrell on a road that only leads to the neighborhood's pool. Ferrell ran toward the officers, who tried to stop him with a Taser. Police said he continued to run toward them and Kerrick fired 12 shots, hitting Ferrell with all but two. Ferrell died at the scene.

Chestnut and representatives of the NAACP have questioned whether race played a role in the shooting. Ferrell is black, while Kerrick is white. Though there was praise for police for quickly filing charges, some said the shooting didn't surprise them, considering portrayals of black men in popular culture and previous instances of racially inflected violence

On the 911 tape released by the city, the woman tells a dispatcher that she thought her husband had returned home around 2:30 a.m. But when she opened the door, a man tried to get in.

Sobbing and trying to catch her breath, the woman asked the dispatcher: "Where are the cops?"

The dispatcher tried to calm her down, repeating over and over that they were on the way.

He also asked her to describe the man. She told him he was black, about 210 pounds and wearing a green shirt.

At one point, the woman told the dispatcher about her baby. "He's in his bed. I don't know what to do. I can't believe I opened the door...Please don't let him get my baby," she cried.

When police arrived at the scene, she peeked out her window. And when the officers began looking for a man, the dispatcher assured the woman they weren't leaving.

On Monday, Ferrell's family said in their first public remarks in the case that the former Florida A&M University football player moved to Charlotte about a year ago to be with his fiancee and was working two jobs. He wanted to go back to school and eventually become an automotive engineer, they said. He had no criminal record.

The encounter was set in motion around 2:30 a.m. Saturday when Ferrell's car ran off the entrance road to a suburban neighborhood about 15 miles from downtown Charlotte.

After crashing his car into trees, Ferrell kicked out the back window and headed up a hill to the first set of closely-clustered houses he could see. He then started "banging on the door viciously" of a home to attract attention, police Chief Rodney Monroe said.

Listening to the tape, Chestnut said he doesn't blame the caller, but police missed critical opportunities to de-escalate the situation.

"If someone is going to rob your house, they're not going to knock on your door at 2 in the morning. They're not going to ask you to turn down the alarm. I don't expect the caller to deploy that analysis but I would expect the trained 911 dispatcher to at least make the nexus and articulate it for the officer," Chestnut said.

And when police arrived at the scene, Ferrell was not in the "immediate vicinity of the home."

"He's down the street. If you just pause and consider ask what's going on, they would realize that it's not consistent with the call. Here you have a guy who's in a green T-shirt and jeans, no shoes - he just survived a car wreck and climbed out the back window and was walking around for help. That's not consistent with a robber...When law enforcement pulls up, he doesn't turn away from you, he runs to you for help. That's not consistent with a robber, either. This was a helpless unarmed frightened young man," he said.