He looked from officer to officer, his gaze pausing on each. They were shouting for him to show them his hands, to drop the gun. He didn’t look like he was going to comply.
“I felt like he was trying to decide who he wanted to shoot first.”
That’s the assessment given by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Brentley Vinson describing the tense moments leading up to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott on Sept. 20.
In his first statement, taken a day after the shooting and made public Wednesday by District Attorney Andrew Murray, Vinson described Scott’s demeanor when he stepped from his SUV and was confronted by five officers.
“He came out, squared up on us and he had this look in his eye like he was trying to decide what he was going to do,” Vinson said in the statement.
“Like it was about to happen right now. ... It was like he just wasn’t there, and he just had like this evil look. ...
“I felt like if I didn’t do anything right then at that point it’s like he was going to shoot me or he’s going to shoot one of my buddies, and it was going to happen right now. So I reacted.”
Murray said Wednesday that Vinson acted appropriately under the circumstances and no charges will be brought against him.
First such situation
Son of a police officer, Vinson, 26, played football for Ardrey Kell High School and Liberty University before joining CMPD two years ago. He said the encounter with Scott was his first “vehicle takedown” – removing a possibly dangerous suspect from a car – beyond training exercises.
In a 95-minute interview with Detective M.R. Grande on Sept. 21, the day after the shooting, Vinson detailed the events leading up to the confrontation. Also present at the interview were Sgt. Steve Winterhalter and George Laughrun, an attorney representing Vinson.
Vinson said he and Sgt. James Pendergraph Jr. were in a van staking out an apartment complex in University City, looking for a wanted felon. Vinson said that Scott pulled up next to him and appeared to be stuffing marijuana into a hollowed-out cigarello.
Vinson and Pendergraph decided to ignore him and continue their stakeout, but then Vinson saw Scott pick up a pistol in the front seat.
“He held it up like this and it kind of looked like the slide was back. And then once he held it up, he put it back down,” Vinson said. “I got a good view of it.”
Pendergraph decided they would retreat, put on tactical vests that showed they were police and come back with reinforcements to confront Scott about the gun. They did, and officers began calling on Scott to show his hands.
Scott instead stepped out of the vehicle with the gun in his right hand, Vinson said.
Feared for life
“So it wasn’t as though he was trying to figure out, ‘How do I comply with police,’ he wasn’t trying to figure out how he could get away, he was trying to figure out how he was going to shoot it out,” said Vinson, who was the only one of the five officers with a clear shot – others were opposite one another and could have been hit by crossfire, officers said.
I felt like if I didn’t do anything right then, at that point, it’s like he was going to shoot me or he’s going to shoot one of my buddies and it was going to happen right now.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Brentley Vinson, in his first statement taken the day after the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
“I felt like if I didn’t do anything right then, at that point, it’s like he was going to shoot me or he’s going to shoot one of my buddies and it was going to happen right now,” Vinson said.
Reason for stakeout
Reports released in the case also shed light for the first time on the fugitive that Vinson and his team was pursuing: Walter Boyd, 29, who has a lengthy criminal record including convictions for auto theft, drug possession and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Investigators had tracked Boyd to the apartment complex because he had opened a cable TV account at that address.
Boyd still appears to be at large.
Vinson said he could see Scott clearly when another officer started banging on the glass of Scott’s SUV to get him to come out. He never heard Scott speak.
“He’s just had this look on his face ... he was just intense, he had this intense gaze.”
Other officers at the scene repeated the observation about Scott’s emotional aspect in interviews with investigators.
Sgt. Pendergraph: “He was in a trance-like state.”
Officer Andrew Hostutler: “A blank stare … what I would define as emotionless.”
Officer Bryan Wiggins: “Blank stare.”
Scott had earlier taken medication for a traumatic brain injury, police later learned, and a toxicology report showed chemicals from marijuana.
Scott’s motives for his actions will never be known, but in a report released by District Attorney Andrew Murray, there is this insight:
“An important fact likely known to Keith Scott – but unknown to the officers – was that Scott had an active warrant for his arrest in Gaston County and being caught with a firearm would likely lead to Scott returning to prison.”
State of mind
At the end of his interview with CMPD investigators, Vinson was asked by Laughrun, his attorney, to describe what was going through his mind the moment he pulled the trigger.
“Honest to God, I didn’t want to die and didn’t want my partners to die,” Vinson replied.
“I didn’t want anybody to get shot. I just knew he was about to shoot somebody.”