Fractions of a second before Justin Carr was fatally shot last September, a frame from a newly released police video shows a small blip of gold light to the right of where the Charlotte man was standing. Then a tall figure dressed in a white shirt and dark pants joins the panicked rush from the scene.
This, according to prosecutors, is the precise moment in which Rayquan Borum fired the shot that killed Carr on the night of Sept. 21.
The alleged gunshot was caught on video by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, who were operating city traffic cameras to capture the peaceful demonstrations and outbreaks of violence that swept through uptown after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott the day before.
The footage is part of a release of more than 90 minutes of video from the two days of dramatic unrest, which a judge ordered released to the public for the first time at the request of the Observer. The Observer made the request in late July, and a judge ordered the release Tuesday.
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While dozens of people were injured during chaos that inflamed the city after the Scott shooting, Carr was the only one to die. He was struck in the head by a bullet as he stood with hundreds of others outside the Omni hotel at College and Trade streets.
Borum, a convicted felon, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting. Last month, he pleaded not guilty to the charge, rejecting a plea agreement from the district attorney’s office in which he would have served a 16-year prison term in return for pleading guilty to second-degree murder. Under N.C. law, a first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence without parole. The trial likely will take place next year.
Multiple activists who were outside the Omni that night still say police shot and killed Carr using a rubber bullet, and that Borum became the scapegoat in a government coverup.
Police and prosecutors have said for months that they have video evidence that shows Borum firing the fatal shot. Borum’s attorney says he has not seen any footage proving his client shot anyone.
Run at normal speed, the video released Tuesday shows crowds milling about at Trade and College, with hundreds of people massing in front of the Omni where police stood at the entrance.
About 15 seconds into the clip, much of the crowd dashes away for an unknown reason. The camera pulls in.
A few seconds after 8:30 p.m., the video captures a second panicked dash of people. Then a circle quickly forms where Carr lies bleeding and dying in front of the hotel. Onlookers stagger about, looking horror-stricken. Some begin to cry. Others hug friends. Dozens more circle Carr’s body with their phones held aloft, shooting photos and videos.
A frame-by-frame breakdown of the video by the Observer reveals more possible details.
Just after the 20:30.7 time stamp on the clip, a small square of gold light appears in the darkness of the milling crowd to the right of the hotel. A man with long hair and wearing a white shirt stands with his back to the camera. For a fraction of a second his left arm appears extended.
Then he joins the dash of people running from the scene. He ducks around a CATS bus sign, then turns south onto College before disappearing from view.
Defense attorney Terry Sherrill says prosecutors have told him they believe the fleeing figure is Borum. Sherrill says the small blip of gold light that appears for an instant is what prosecutors say is the flash from Borum’s gun.
Borum’s prosecutor, Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Clayton Jones, would not comment Tuesday on the video shot outside the Omni. But during a court hearing last week on the Observer’s request to have the 90 minutes of riot videos released, he and Sherrill asked a judge to redact two minutes of the footage.
Jones told Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin that the frames he wanted withheld contained significant evidence for Borum’s upcoming trial, which could jeopardize finding an impartial jury if shown to the public beforehand. Sherrill said frames that prosecutors believe show Borum were included in that two minutes of footage.
Ervin ultimately disagreed.
In his ruling, Ervin noted that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police did not object to the release of all the footage, which he said “would not create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice” nor impact “Mr. Borum’s right to a fair trial.”
In the past, Sherrill has acknowledged that on the night Carr died, his client was uptown and carrying a gun, which he fired.
Tuesday, he confirmed that prosecutors had earlier shown him the video shot outside the Omni. Given the size of the crowds and the quality of the footage, he said it does not conclusively identify Borum or prove that he fired a weapon.
Asked if he believed the footage would prove persuasive to a jury, Sherrill replied, “No, I don’t think it would.”