After an extensive review of the police shooting that killed Keith Lamont Scott, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray sought to debunk persistent rumors surrounding the incident that triggered days of violent protests in September.
In a nearly hour-long news conference Wednesday morning, Murray described in detail the timeline of the Sept. 20 shooting of Scott, a black civilian, and discredited the accounts of a number of witnesses, including Scott’s wife.
Rumors had circulated on social media that Scott was holding a book – not a gun – when officers shot him, and that someone other than Officer Brentley Vinson shot Scott.
“Officer Vinson took responsibility for the shooting from the outset,” Murray said Wednesday. “Every officer’s gun was seized, and an ammunition count was conducted by investigators. Each one had a full count ... of ammunition with the exception of Officer Vinson, who was four rounds short.”
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In police footage, the sound of four rounds was clearly heard, and four shell casings were recovered at the scene, Murray said. And an expert firearms analyst found that the four shell casings were fired from Vinson’s gun, he added. Scott was shot three times.
The use of social media in such events both helps and hurts, experts say. While Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media platforms help spread information and experiences, they can also proliferate falsehoods and fuel anger.
The problem in this case is that it was a false narrative world that began spinning out of control. ... (and) unfortunately caused this city to have significant riots.
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray, speaking about how false rumors spread on social media following the police shooting that killed Keith Lamont Scott.
One of the biggest misconceptions following Scott’s shooting is that he didn’t have a gun, something his wife, Rakeyia Scott, can be heard shouting several times in video footage of the shooting. Scott has maintained that her husband was unarmed during the encounter with police, but text messages between the Scotts the month before the shooting include an argument about a gun in Keith Scott’s possession, Murray said.
He also said CMPD began to interview Rakeyia Scott at the hospital on the night of the shooting, but she ultimately terminated that interview on the advice of her attorney.
Scott and her attorneys later publicly claimed that CMPD never attempted to interview her, Murray said.
No book found
Another rumor that had circulated was that Keith Scott had been holding a book, not a gun, the night of the shooting. But no reading book was found in Scott’s SUV, Murray said.
“A composition notebook belonging to Mrs. Scott was found between the center console and the passenger seat. It did not match the description given by witnesses who claim they saw Mr. Scott with a book,” Murray said.
Investigators interviewed nine civilian witnesses.
Three of the witnesses claimed on social media or in media interviews that Scott was unarmed. But the SBI later determined that they had not actually seen the shooting.
“Some of these witnesses gave conflicting statements, as well as statements that are unsupported by video or physical evidence,” Murray said.
One witness said she saw a white officer shoot Scott and that Vinson – who is black – wasn’t around at the time of the shooting. She later acknowledged to the SBI that she heard officers tell Scott to drop the gun, but that she didn’t actually see the shooting.
Another told reporters she saw Scott with his hands raised – and that a book fell from his lap. She later told the SBI she was in her apartment at the time of the shooting and didn’t see Scott until after the shooting. She never actually saw a book or a gun, she told investigators.
A witness who was under the age of 16 initially told CMPD that Scott was reading a book when officers began banging on his window. He said Scott left his vehicle empty-handed, his hands wide open. He also claimed a white officer shot Scott. But what the youth said wasn’t supported by other evidence, Murray said.
It later became apparent that the youth had incorporated some of what he saw on a YouTube video into his account. Investigators determined it would have been difficult if not impossible for the youth to have seen what he reported because a tree would have obscured the view from his apartment.
Two witnesses said they did see something in Scott’s hand when he left the vehicle, but they couldn’t tell what it was because they were too far away.
Social media’s role
In an interview with the Observer Wednesday afternoon, Murray said social media has changed what the community hears about police shootings.
“Everybody has that phone on them,” Murray said. “Everybody has that opportunity to tape. So it’s changed our world. The problem in this case is that it was a false narrative world that began spinning out of control.
“And as we now know, there are actors or contributors that got themselves into a role for their 10 minutes of fame and continued a false narrative that unfortunately caused this city to have significant riots.”
Murray said he did not expect that any of the people who spread false information will be prosecuted. He said he believes their intention was “to be in front of that camera” – not to cause riots.
Rev. Raymond Johnson, who had joined in the demonstrations and was present for the press conference, said after Murray’s presentation that he had no qualms with the DA’s findings and decision.
But Johnson, an associate pastor at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Marion, S.C., questioned why authorities didn’t release more of the information to the public sooner.
“That would have calmed folks down,” Johnson said.