CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Hours after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency and the National Guard and state troopers moved in to help quell violent protests that roiled the city for a second consecutive night, there was still widespread anger and uncertainty about the fatal police shooting that unleashed the unrest.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said at a news conference Thursday that family members of Keith Lamont Scott have asked to view video of his deadly encounter with police, and authorities are trying to accommodate them. However, the chief suggested that his department has no imminent plans to release the footage to the public.
“Transparency is in the eye of the beholder,” Putney told reporters, adding: “If you think I’m saying we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”
Putney said the department would release the police video only “when we believe it is a compelling reason,” and said the footage – which, he noted, doesn’t definitively show Scott pointing a gun – probably would not do much to calm the city anyway.
“I can tell you this: There’s your truth, my truth and the truth,” he said. “Some people have already made up their minds.”
Charlotte officials spoke Thursday morning as the city tried to recover from a second night of demonstrations that left several businesses damaged and one man clinging to life.
“We are working together to get through this difficult time,” Mayor Jennifer Roberts said in an earlier interview with “Good Morning America.” “We are a can-do city, we are a collaborative city, we are a place that welcomes visitors, that includes all voices at the table. And we are determined to work together to make sure that we return to that state of collaboration.”
During the news conference, Roberts noted that it had been “a difficult couple of days for the city” and was “not the Charlotte we know and love.”
Although city leaders said Charlotte was “open for business, as usual,” Uptown was more of a ghost town than bustling city center, with some businesses cleaning up and others closing shop.
People milled about on the streets, but there were a lot fewer than normal. Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, which is headquartered here, had told employees to stay home. During the lunch rush, restaurants and coffee shops had few customers.
Workers moved quickly to repair damage from the previous night’s protests. They were seen mending windows at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a nearby Bank of America building.
Kidane Engida, a veteran hot-dog vendor, said he had only served about 10 customers by the middle of the lunch hour in uptown.
“Today is dead,” he said. “It’s like a bank holiday: If the bankers are not working, there’s nobody.”
City officials said they had not advised companies to tell their workers to stay home – and, in fact, stressed that the business district was safe and secure following a second spasm of unrest.
On Wednesday, for the second straight night, peaceful protests turned into chaos when demonstrators attempted to follow police in riot gear into the lobby of an uptown hotel. Officers used tear gas, and then a reporter heard a gunshot and saw a man lying in the street near the hotel entrance.
The man, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital with wounds that medics said were “life-threatening.”
Officials announced on Twitter that the man had died, then later tweeted that he was on “life support.” A hospital spokesman said Thursday morning that the man was not dead but had no further information.
Putney later said the man was in critical condition. Investigators are reviewing video to determine who shot the man, the chief said, noting that an allegation was made “that one of our officers was involved.”
The protests stemmed from Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of Scott – putting Charlotte on a growing list of communities across the country that have erupted amid a growing debate on racial bias in policing.
Some protesters ignited small fires and shattered hotel windows. Businesses were damaged and looted. Nine civilians were injured, and two police officers suffered “minor” eye injuries and three were treated for “heat issues,” the chief said.
There were 44 overnight arrests on charges ranging from failure to disperse to assault and breaking and entering, Putney said. More arrests are likely after police investigators review surveillance video, he said.
In preparation for more mayhem, Charlotte leaders requested help from state troopers and the National Guard, whose Humvees rolled through the city Thursday. Officials also weighed the possibility of implementing a curfew Thursday night – though the police chief noted at the morning news conference that “right now, we don’t see the need to shut the city down at a specific hour.”
Michael Smith,chief executive of the downtown development corporation Charlotte Center City Partners, said the influx of law enforcement personnel gave him “much greater confidence that we will respond the way we need to” following two nights of chaos.
But Corinne Mack, who heads the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, said the increased police presence could prove problematic.
“More police presence is never going to help,” she said. “There was nothing but love in the air and then you see police in riot gear – it’s like attack mode. They’re in this full outfit, like it’s a war.
“A police officer’s job is to de-escalate the problem. More cops does not help. More transparency helps. More communication helps.”
Law enforcement officials have fatally shot 706 people this year, 163 of them black men, according to a Washington Post database tracking fatal police shootings. A growing divide in public rhetoric over that toll has been fed by a summer of high-profile deaths captured on social media and deadly assaults on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The latest encounters -in Charlotte, and Tulsa, where protesters called for the arrest of the officer involved in the fatal shooting of a black man there Friday – come as the presidential race has tightened, and both candidates have offered positions and solutions.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch pleaded again Thursday for protesters to remain peaceful, criticizing the violence that has injured police and demonstrators alike.
“For the second day in a row, protests in response to the death of Keith Lamont Scott took place in Charlotte last night,” Lynch, a North Carolina native, said during a news conference. “And for the second day in a row, the protests were marred by violence – this time leaving one person on life support and several injured – an awful reminder that violence only begets violence.”
Lynch called for “those responsible for the violence to stop,” adding: “You are drowning out the voices of commitment and change and ushering in more tragedy and grief in our communities.”
The FBI and Justice Department are monitoring the situation involving Scott’s death, Lynch said, but federal officials have not launched their own investigation.
“I know these are difficult times,” Lynch said. “I know that the events of recent days are painfully unclear and call out for answers. But I also know that the answer will not be found in the violence of recent days.”
Charlotte police have insisted that Scott had a gun and was posing an “imminent deadly threat” when officers shot him outside an apartment complex near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Scott’s family, however, said he was unarmed when he was killed and was instead reading a book in his car while waiting to pick up his child from school – a detail that quickly went viral on social media and was seized upon by protesters here.
Officers were searching for another man, a suspect with outstanding warrants, when they spotted Scott emerging from a vehicle armed with a handgun, police said.
“The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands” telling Scott to drop the weapon, the police chief said Wednesday. “Mr. Scott exited his vehicle armed with a handgun as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers.”
Putney said police recovered a gun and found no book at the scene.
“It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story is a little bit different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” the chief said.
The police chief also said the officer who shot Scott was in plainclothes, wearing a vest with a police logo, and was accompanied by other officers in full uniform. The plainclothes officer wasn’t wearing a body camera, but the other officers were.
Whether authorities can defuse the anger on the streets could hinge on that body-camera footage. The shooting has thrust Charlotte to the fore of a national debate about access to police body cameras.
During an occasionally testy exchange with reporters Thursday, Putney was asked when the public could expect the release of the shooting video.
“You shouldn’t expect it to be released,” he said.
“I’m not going to jeopardize the investigation,” he added.
Todd Walther, a spokesman for the local Fraternal Order of Police, said Thursday morning on CNN that he had seen dash-cam video and that the police version of events was accurate.
“I can confirm exactly what Chief Putney has said – Mr. Scott was armed when he exited the vehicle, and a weapon was recovered, a handgun was recovered on the scene next to Mr. Scott,” Walther said.
At the news conference, Putney said “the video does not give me absolute definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun. I did not see that in the videos that I’ve reviewed.”
Still, he said: “When taken in totality of other evidence it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Mr. Scott.”
A new state law effective Oct. 1 forbids police agencies from making body-camera footage public without a court order.
“At a time when you’re seeing other states becoming more transparent, North Carolina is taking this tremendous step backward,” said Mike Meno, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. The violent protests and conflicting accounts in Charlotte prove “just how misguided this new law is,” Meno said, and show exactly why public access to such footage is crucial.
The Charlotte mayor, however, said she does not believe the new law will apply to the footage and said she has asked the police chief to show it to her and a small group of community leaders, including the NAACP chair.
The new law is just the latest controversial issue concerning equity and civil rights in North Carolina. In recent months, progressive forces have clashed with conservative ones over black voting rights, bathroom use for transgender people, and now police shootings and body-camera access – and in response have carried out boycotts and protests.
McCrory, R, said Wednesday in a statement that his office “will do everything we can to support the mayor and the police chief in their efforts to keep the community calm and to get this situation resolved. It’s very important that we all work together as a team to solve a very difficult issue and to bring peace and resolution.”
In a Facebook Live video widely circulated before Tuesday’s protest, a woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter said officers used a stun gun on him, then shot him four times with their service weapons. She added that Scott was disabled.
“My daddy didn’t do nothing; they just pulled up undercover,” she said in the video. By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been taken down.
Scott’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, released a statement Wednesday evening saying the family was “devastated.”
“Keith was a loving husband, father, brother and friend who will be deeply missed every day,” she wrote. “As a family, we respect the rights of those who wish to protest, but we ask that people protest peacefully. Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that do not belong to you in the name of protesting.
“After listening to remarks made by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Putney today, we have more questions than answers about Keith’s death. Rest assured, we will work diligently to get answers to our questions as quickly as possible.”
It was unclear whether family members were present and witnessed Scott’s shooting.
Authorities said the officer who shot Scott is black, and they identified him as Brentley Vinson, who has worked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force since July 2014. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
This city was the scene of another high-profile police shooting in September 2013, when officers fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old black man who had crashed his car in a residential neighborhood several miles from the complex where Scott was killed.
Officer Randall Kerrick fired 12 rounds at Ferrell, who was unarmed, striking him 10 times. Police said Ferrell ignored officers’ instructions.
Last year, the jury deadlocked during Kerrick’s trial. While most jurors voted to acquit the officer, four voted to convict him. After a judge declared a mistrial, the state said it would not seek another trial. Ferrell’s family and the city of Charlotte settled a lawsuit stemming from the shooting for a reported $2.25 million.
But anger from the 2013 shooting never went away, lurking beneath the surface until Tuesday night, when it exploded again into the open.
Jibril Hough, a local activist who organized protests during Kerrick’s trial, said the current Charlotte demonstrations stem from lingering frustrations over Ferrell’s shooting.
“I think what we went through with Kerrick here in Charlotte, even though it wasn’t as explosive, I think that weathered on us,” he said. “What happens is that nine times out of 10, the cop will get off. He’ll get paid leave. He’ll get early retirement. He’ll basically get paid for the killing. Nothing is being done to really change anything.”
“What you’re seeing is people have been put in that situation for so long and they’re tired of talking,” he added. “They’re tired of talking and talking and candlelight vigils and dialogue and nothing getting done.”
Hough said he did not agree with the violent turn the protests have taken. But, he said, there’s a “boiling point” – and some people in Charlotte have reached it.
– – –
Bever and Wan reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Adam Rhew in Charlotte and Mark Berman, Derek Hawkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.