Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney says he won’t release more than two hours of video from the scene where police fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott, arguing it’s unethical to show the dying man’s final moments.
But a lawyer for the Scott family said Thursday the department should not withhold the footage from the public.
“The Charlotte police department can’t keep doing things the way they have and expect the public’s trust,” said Charles Monnett, a Charlotte attorney. “Trust is based on openness.”
On Saturday, CMPD released parts of videos taken during the shooting from a dashboard camera and a body cam worn by a uniformed officer at the scene outside Scott’s apartment at The Village at College Downs complex in University City. The footage lasts about two minutes.
Never miss a local story.
But the police body camera captured another 16 minutes of footage and the dash-cam recorded an additional hour and 50 minutes that police did not make available.
Law enforcement experts and activists called the decision troubling. They said CMPD’s initial refusal to distribute any footage is partly responsible for violent protests that followed Scott’s death.
“You want to be on the side of full disclosure,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “This is just going to raise more questions. Maybe this is not a decision that should be (trusted to) police departments.”
A group of news organizations, including the Observer, have requested the city make the videos available. They argue the footage is a public record that could contains important information about what happened, including whether Scott had a gun as police have said.
Based on the video released so far, it’s not clear whether he had a gun during the confrontation.
Putney told the Observer that the footage being withheld is too graphic and too disturbing to release.
“There is a legal standard, but there is a moral standard that is higher,” Putney said. “Showing a person’s demise on video doesn’t sit right morally or ethically.”
Tipping the scales
Before bowing to intense public pressure following the Scott shooting, CMPD had never released footage from dash cams and body cameras involving a police shooting.
As of today, North Carolina law allows police departments to decide if they will release videos. That will change Saturday when a state law takes effect that keeps footage under seal unless a judge rules otherwise.
Monnett, the lawyer representing Scott’s family, said CMPD should immediately release the additional footage to the family.
Since the shooting, the department has provided details publicly only when they are favorable to police, he said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police released limited radio traffic from the Scott shooting Thursday. The communication appears to match CMPD’s account that officers confronted Scott because he had marijuana and a gun.
“You can’t gain the public’s trust by putting out things that only make the police look good,” Monnett said. “That may not be the full picture. That’s why people distrust.”
Kenneth Williams, an expert on police misconduct and professor at the Houston College of Law, said CMPD’s decision not to release all video footage is baffling.
“I don’t understand,” Williams said. “It feeds into conspiracy theories. It’s weird not to release the video.”
Williams contrasted Charlotte with Tulsa, where demonstrations were peaceful following the release of video showing a white officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man.
“Tulsa did it the right way,” he said.
Putney defended his handling of the videos, saying he has tried to strike a balance between transparency and protecting the integrity of the investigation.
Experts said police want to avoid witnesses tailoring their statements to what they see in videos.
“This has been painful,” Putney said. “This is hard to navigate.”
Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027, @FrederickClasen