CHARLOTTE – Police officials relented amid increasing pressure Saturday and released two videos showing the shooting death of a black man by police five days ago that has sparked several nights of sometimes-violent protests.
The videos – one taken from an officer’s body camera and another from the dashboard camera of a police vehicle – show Keith Lamont Scott, 43, exiting his vehicle and falling to the ground. But they do not answer a crucial question about whether Scott was holding a gun as police have said and Scott’s family has denied.
The police department also offered fresh insight into how the encounter happened. Plainclothes officers were sitting in an unmarked car at an apartment complex preparing to serve an arrest warrant against someone else when Scott pulled in beside them, the department said. The officers initially noticed that the 43-year-old was rolling a marijuana “blunt” in his car – and then saw him raise a gun, the police said. The combination of the gun and the marijuana created a public safety hazard, the officers concluded. The officers left and returned in vests and equipment that identified them as cops.
That is when the encounter began, police say. “There was a crime that he had committed [possessing marijuana] that caused the encounter, and then the gun exacerbated that encounter,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney at a news conference.
Putney’s office also released photos of a gun, an ankle holster and a “blunt.” The gun was loaded and had Scott’s fingerprints and DNA, according to police.
Scott’s widow, who was standing nearby when the shooting occurred, remains unconvinced that the gun was in her husband’s hand or pointed at officers when he was shot, the family’s attorney said.
“Our goal has, from the beginning, been to get the absolute unfiltered truth, and the only way to get that for the police is to release the videos,” said Ray Dotch, Scott’s brother-in-law. “Unfortunately, we are left with far more questions than we have answers.”
The fatal shooting has turned Charlotte, considered by many the beacon of the “New South,” into the latest U.S. city to face tough questions about the treatment of minorities by police. Hundreds of protesters have descended on the city’s uptown for the past five nights, prompting the state’s governor to call in the National Guard and the city’s mayor to put in place a midnight curfew.
The city was still healing from the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was shot by a white police officer in 2013 when Scott’s death reopened old wounds, protesters have said.
The chief focus of protesters had been the release of the police videos, but now even that doesn’t appear to be enough.
“What does marijuana have to do with it? Why did he mention that?” asked Kayla Jefferson, 24, who was among hundreds of protesters listening to the news conference at a park in uptown. “They’re trying to make him look like a bad guy without releasing all of the information.”
Charlotte officials appeared to acknowledge that the controversy surround the shooting would continue. No matter what the police department releases it will not satisfy Black Lives Matter protesters, Bill James, a 10-term commissioner for Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, said in a Twitter post. “You cannot satiate a mob with facts. Not in Ferguson, Baltimore, or Charlotte,” he said.
Putney, the police chief, said he decided to make the video footage available after confirming that doing so would not hurt an investigation into the shooting being carried out by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. There are other videos and pieces of evidence, including statements by the police officers who witnessed the shooting, that will be released later, he said.
The two videos were not enough for some protesters. “We would like to see full transparency,” said Nicole Galloway, 28, who lives in Charlotte and was among the protesters Saturday. “We believe in justice and we believe in full transparency, so we can all see what happened.”
The videos show officers in police tactical vests taking up position behind the cab of their white flatbed truck. Scott then exits his own vehicle, which is reverse parked, with his back to the officers. It is not clear if Scott is holding anything in either hand.
As he approaches the end of the officers’ truck, he turns slightly to the right, and police open fire. Four gunshots are heard; Scott falls and can be heard moaning. Scott was shot by Brentley Vinson, an African-American officer.
The release of the videos came one day after footage shot by Scott’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, showing her pleading with officers not to shoot her husband of 20 years, was made public. In the video, Rakeyia Scott can be heard yelling to the officers that her husband was unarmed and had a traumatic head injury. “Don’t shoot him,” she says.
Officers say Scott pointed a gun at them; Scott’s family has disputed that he was armed and that, if he was, that he raised the weapon.
“Mr. Scott does not appear to be acting aggressive,” attorney Justin Bamberg said of the video. “He doesn’t lunge at the officers. It appears he has his hands by his side. The moment he is shot, he is passively stepping back.”
That dispute is not settled by these videos, and it is unclear how long it will be before the State Bureau of Investigation completes its examinations.
Putney said that he has no plans to charge any of the officers involved in the fatal shooting with a crime but left open the possibility that charges could come from the state investigation. “If laws were violated I would be taking different action,” he said.
Many stores in uptown Charlotte have been closed since violent demonstrations began Tuesday evening, and even those that are open are seeing little business or closing early. Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which have thousands of employees in the area, told them to stay home most of the week. Restaurants and businesses in the city popular uptown Epicentre closed early, by 4 p.m. in most cases, most of the week.
Hundreds of protesters have spent hours snaking their way through uptown Charlotte over the past few days, continuing to demonstrate hours past the city’s midnight curfew. Police officers on bicycles have watched close by, directing traffic away from major highways, and National Guard troops stood in front of major city markers, including Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.
Unlike the early days of protests, when demonstrators broke windows and police arrested dozens of people, marches over the past several evenings have remained relatively calm. Several local clergy members, who wore yellow ribbons on their arms to distinguish themselves, say that after the initial violence, they are focused on defusing any potential conflicts.
“It’s not enough for me to be in the pulpit,” said Byron Davis, leader of Liberation Ministries in Charlotte. “We’re here where Jesus would be.”
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters emerged again, this time chanting “release the full tapes.”
Instead of satisfying protesters’ questions about the incident, the limited video release generated new suspicions among some. “I feel like they cut out the parts that were most important,” said Erin Richards, 25. “I feel like they didn’t show anything. They cut out the stuff that mattered. You can’t see the shooter, you can’t see a gun. You can’t see anything.”
“I’m out here because I have three sons who I do not want to have become a hashtag,” said Verdetta Turner, 40, of Charlotte.
Her oldest son, Justus Jenkins, 15, followed not far behind his mother, carrying a sign that declared: “My humanity should not be up for debate. I don’t wanna be a hashtag.”
“I’m out here to stand with the cause and make a difference,” Justus said. “It’s more than a police problem. I think that it’s a racism problem, it’s a stereotype problem of police fearing black people. . . . They see us and they fear us.”
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Ann Gerhart in Washington and Sarah Larimer in Charlotte contributed to this report.