CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Wende Kerl will not be charged in the death of 27-year-old Danquirs Franklin, who was fatally shot by Kerl in a Burger King parking lot March 25, District Attorney Spencer Merriweather announced Wednesday.
The DA’s office stated after a careful review of the investigation, the State could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Kerl’s belief that she faced an imminent threat was unreasonable.
“The question is whether or not the officer’s belief when she took lethal action was unreasonable and if I can’t prove it was unreasonable, there was no way the D.A.'s office could proceed in this case,” said District Attorney Spencer Merriweather.
The fatal shooting happened in the Burger King parking lot off Beatties Ford Road.
Officials say Kerl responded to the scene with limited information, and that she was only aware of an armed person in the restaurant wanting to fight an employee.
Kerl shot Franklin at least twice, according to officials. The autopsy shows Franklin died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen.
“Consequently, I will not be seeking charges related to the death of Danquirs Franklin,” the DA stated. “My review committee closely and repeatedly examined Officer Kerl’s body-worn camera.”
Merriweather said several pieces of evidence stood out to him which he used to inform his decision, includinga piece of witness testimony from the man who Franklin was kneeling next to during the shooting.
“That person was literally feet maybe even inches away from Mr. Franklin in the moments before and the time he was killed. That person said that when Mr. Franklin pulled the gun out of his jacket, he didn’t even know if Mr. Franklin was going to shoot him," said Merriweather. "With evidence like that, it raises that bar of what we’re going to face with this evidence going before a jury”
Kerl was placed on administrative leave and then administrative assignment following the shooting.
“Our hearts go out to the families. You’ve got to think at least two families have been changed dramatically forever," CMPD Cheif Kerr Putney said following the DA’s announced decision. “I’m still tearing through the report. Still reading it. I do know his decision not to charge.”
Putney says he respects the thoroughness of the investigation. “They did a very good job. It’s tough on them because they are investigating one of their own."
Putney says the department will now proceed with the “final piece” of the internal investigation. CMPD expects to have the investigation complete within the next few weeks. As of Wednesday, Kerl was still on leave.
The District Attorney’s Office also released images Wednesday from inside the restaurant, giving more insight to what happened before officers arrived.
“The evidence would demonstrate, that he did some tough things before he was engaged with law enforcement," said Merriweather. “None of those things warranted his death.”
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles responded to the DA’s decision. “Policies and procedures were followed,” Lyles tweeted. "Since this tragedy, I have worked with the City Council to advance additional training for de-escalation and crisis intervention, increase funding for grassroots safety groups, and continue ongoing communication workshops across the city.”
“We should all remember that a family has lost a son and a father, and that our CMPD officers must make split-second decisions every day to protect our city,” Lyles tweeted. “I ask the community to read the entire report and to understand how difficult this is for all of us.”
In the body-cam video, officers Kerl and Larry Diehl drew their guns immediately upon getting out of their vehicles. Between the two officers, Franklin was instructed to either “drop the weapon” or “put the gun on the ground” at least 20 times.
A minute and ten seconds passes from the time Kerl exits her vehicle to the shooting.
Hours before the release of the video, city leaders united outside the Government Center in uptown Charlotte to call for a calm and measured community reaction. Lyles and council members said they had not seen the video before holding the press conference.
“We owe it to the community for them to see what has been recorded,” said Lyles. “We will all work together - protest is important - people have the right to do that.”
When asked to describe what can be seen in the video, Putney called it a punch to gut: “It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to see. A life has been lost.”
Police also released two 911 calls, shortly after the incident, made from witnesses at the Burger King describing an armed man in the restaurant.
In the first call, a woman describes an African-American man inside the restaurant headed towards the counter to “fight an employee.” Halfway through the call, the woman starts repeating the same phrase - “he got a gun.”
The mother of Franklin’s children claims that Franklin had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and she thought he had been taking his medication. She said Franklin was admitted to Behavioral Health and she decided to hide his gun since he had been threatening to shoot her. He later found the gun, the woman claims.
She says she broke up with Franklin and was dating someone at Burger King. Franklin showed up at the restaurant with the pair’s two children, age four and age seven, the woman claims, and was being very “irate." Franklin reportedly began chasing the coworker she was dating and pulled out a gun, the woman says, and the worker ran off.
The woman says she tried to calm Franklin down but he slung her to the ground. Franklin eventually ran outside and knelt beside a car, which the restaurant’s general manager was in.
She wasn’t sure if Franklin had been drinking alcohol, but the autopsy showed no ethanol present in Franklin’s system.
The caller said the man was fighting an employee before waiting outside and standing by the menu board.
Police say they engaged the man described in the 911 calls in the parking lot and “repeatedly ordered him to drop his gun” when they arrived on scene.
“I have never experienced anything like this in my life,” a woman told a 911 operator in the second emergency call released to WBTV.
The woman told police the man reached into his pants, possibly going for a weapon, as he approached her car. The caller told the dispatcher she drove away from the restaurant and believed the man went back inside the store.
The woman told the 911 dispatcher she saw people around the Burger King drive off at that point and employees of the store running.
In the days following the shooting, dozens of people gathered at the shooting scene and called for the body-cam video to be released by police.
“He was pretty much a loving, caring person," said Vanessa Cloud, one of Franklin’s former high school classmates.
"He loved basketball, he loves his kids, his friends and family so that’s definitely not the person that I know,” Cloud told WBTV’s Bria Bell.
The police department discussed an education campaign focusing on the investigation process for officer-involved shootings and the release of body-worn camera video.
The campaign is intended to help the community understand the methods and timing associated with the release of information during officer-involved shootings.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney has reiterated body-camera footage does not tell or show the entire story of why an officer chooses to use deadly force on multiple occasions since Franklin’s death.