Activists are asking why an outside review of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will focus on how police handled the Keith Lamont Scott protests – but not how officers reacted to events that led to the Sept. 20 fatal police shooting.
The Rev. Rodney Sadler, a leader with Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, said he doesn’t understand why there isn’t going to be an independent assessment about whether officers should have defused the confrontation with Scott.
“What we need is for someone to look at whether this was handled appropriately,” Sadler said. “If this was handled appropriately, we need them to ask whether the policy should be changed... It’s one of the biggest issues that occurred. Could police have handled this another way?”
Scott’s death led to two nights of violent protests on Interstate 85 and uptown that left a demonstrator dead and stunned the city.
Days later, activists and protestors assailed City Council during a public meeting over what they said was mistreatment by CMPD.
In response, the City Council voted to build more affordable housing, invest in a jobs program, and, perhaps most importantly, launch an independent review of CMPD.
Council members approved a $390,000 contract with the Police Foundation Monday.
But the foundation’s contract doesn’t call for it to explore issues such as whether CMPD could have de-escalated the confrontation with Scott without gunfire or whether officers have the proper training in dealing with people with mental disabilities.
Corine Mack, president of Charlotte branch of the NAACP, said any evaluation that does not include a full examination of officers’ encounter with Scott is unacceptable.
“What kind of investigation is that, if you’re not looking at the full spectrum?” Mack said. “We have to look at every aspect. It goes directly to how the police treat African-Americans.”
The State Bureau of Investigation is handling the criminal investigation into the shooting. It’s unclear whether the SBI will explore issues that go beyond whether the shooting was justified and if criminal charges should be brought.
If the SBI decides that officer Brentley Vinson was justified in shooting Scott in the parking lot of a University City apartment complex, there are still questions as to whether the situation could have been handled in a different way, protestors have said.
The city said in a statement Friday that the city is handling other issues – such as de-escalation training, implicit bias training, and transparency – internally. The city’s public safety committee is reviewing the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which addresses some of those issues.
“That report contains recommendations on how to address these tough issues in law enforcement agencies across the country and CMPD and the city have been and continue to be committed to implementing those recommendations,” the city said in a statement.
The city says the Police Foundation, founded in 1970, is the “oldest nationally known, non-profit, non-partisan, and non-membership driven organization dedicated to improving policing in America.”
It has recently conducted reviews of the police response in Orlando and San Bernardino, Calif. after mass shootings. It also worked with the U.S. Justice Department to review St. Louis County Police and the North Charleston Police Department, two agencies that dealt with the fallout from officers shooting African-Americans.
Questions about encounter
On Sept. 20, police came to an apartment complex to serve a warrant on someone else. As they arrived, police said they saw Scott in his truck in the apartment complex. They said he had a marijuana blunt and a handgun.
That led the officers to focus on Scott.
Scott’s family has said he was holding a book and not a gun. CMPD has said Scott had a gun. Cellphone video taken by Scott’s wife, as well as police body and dash camera footage, doesn’t clearly show what Scott was holding.
The national debate over the Scott shooting hasn’t just focused on the seconds before he was shot, when police repeatedly shouted at him to drop his gun.
Some experts have questioned whether police needed to confront Scott at all, and whether they could have de-escalated the situation instead of pounding on his car, ordering him to get out.
In North Carolina, it’s legal to open-carry a handgun. Scott, a felon, should not have been in possession of a firearm, though it doesn’t appear the officers knew who he was or his criminal history.
Mack, of the NAACP, said she questions why officers confronted Scott since he was sitting in a vehicle and did not pose an obvious immediate threat when they approached him.
“There was no reason for that,” she said.
Experts have differed on whether police should have confronted Scott at that moment, and how aggressively.
Robert Taylor, a former police officer and a criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said CMPD officers were justified in approaching Scott.
“The guy had a gun,” Taylor said. “This is pretty cut and dry. I don’t understand (the controversy). That’s Monday-morning quarterbacking.”
As police surrounded Scott in his truck, Scott’s wife rushed to the scene. A cellphone video she took shows shots were fired after Scott’s wife told officers that he suffered from a traumatic brain injury. Few specifics are known about Scott’s condition, but people with brain injuries often behave irrationally or confused in stressful situations.
Scott suffered his brain injury in a motorcycle accident in November 2015 in Charleston, S.C. It left him with a stutter and memory problems, according to his family.
His family’s attorney has said Scott was likely confused during his encounter with police.
Sadler said CMPD needs an independent evaluation of how officers deal with people with mental disabilities.
“I would love to know what’s going to change,” he said. “What is happening in training so that it is handled differently?”
CMPD chief Kerr Putney has said his officers handled the situation correctly, and he has said numerous times that officers repeatedly told Scott to drop his gun.
As many as half the people killed by police in the United States have a disability, according the Ruderman Foundation, which advocates for those with disabilities.
That’s why it is critical law enforcement agencies thoroughly review use of force involving people diminished mental capacity or other disabilities, said Jay Ruderman, president of the group. He said officers need better training and strategies for dealing with people with disabilities.
“If you don’t learn from past incidents, you’re going to repeat them in the future,” Ruderman said. “People with autism, Down syndrome are not going away.”
City Council member Julie Eiselt, who chairs the city’s public safety committee, said those issues will be explored when the foundation convenes community meetings. She said the city is working to find people who feel voiceless and aren’t included in usual public forums and discussions.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Putney also said CMPD is also conducting its own probe. That means there are three reviews of the shooting underway: the SBI, CMPD and the Police Foundation.