Video of Tuesday’s fatal police shooting doesn’t definitively show the victim pointing a gun, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney said Thursday after viewing it.
Police say they saw Keith Lamont Scott armed with a handgun when he exited his vehicle at a University City apartment complex Tuesday afternoon.
But Putney said the video does not provide “absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun. I didn’t see that in the videos I reviewed.”
Putney said the angle of the video was such that he couldn’t see all of Scott’s actions, but what he did see was consistent with witness statements and what officers on the scene reported.
Scott, 43, an African American, was killed Tuesday while police were trying to serve a warrant on someone else. Putney said afterward that the “totality” of the evidence supports the police conclusion that officers faced an imminent, deadly threat.
Scott’s family will be invited to watch the video of the shooting, Putney said, but police have no plans to release the footage to the public. He said the family should have an opportunity to view it as soon as Thursday night or sometime Friday.
Putney said that references to transparency in the case didn’t mean that the public would necessarily get to view the video, but meant the family would be allowed. “Transparency means seeing the video if you’re the aggrieved party,” he said.
Putney says his department releases shooting video “when we believe there is a compelling reason.” He said he supports transparency in the case, “but I never said full transparency.”
“If you think we should display a family’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency we’re speaking of,” the chief said.
A new state law will soon prevent police agencies from releasing body camera footage to the public without a court order. But African-American leaders, open government advocates and the ACLU urged the police to release the video, noting that the new law doesn’t go into effect until Oct. 1.
But the entrance of the State Bureau of Investigation into the case makes that a moot point, Putney said, because he felt releasing the video could impair their independent investigation.
Although police say Scott was carrying a gun, friends and family members say it was a book. Police said they found a handgun near Scott, but no book.
Open government experts said the violent protests that erupted in Charlotte following the shooting illustrate what can happen when video footage isn’t quickly released.
“You have two different narratives emerging about what happened,” said Jonathan Jones, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition. “The police video is the best possible opportunity to resolve that question of which version is accurate.”
The Observer on Wednesday asked CMPD to release shooting footage captured by body cameras or dashboard cameras, citing the state’s public records law.
CMPD attorney Judy Emken refused the request on Thursday. She said dash-cam video is part of the criminal investigation and is not public under state law. Video and audio from body cameras is also not a public record, Emken said.
Brentley Vinson, the officer who opened fire, was not wearing a body camera, Putney said, but other officers on scene were wearing cameras. Vinson, who is African American, was reportedly wearing plain clothes and a clearly marked CMPD vest.
Calls for transparency
In the wake of the demonstrations in Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, a number of African-American leaders called on the city to release the videos.
“The videos must be released, and there needs to be a federal standard that the videos in these incidents are released,” state NAACP President William Barber said during a Thursday news conference.
Barber also criticized the new state law governing the release of police videos, saying, “It will continue to exacerbate situations like this.”
Charlotte NAACP President Corine Mack criticized Putney for presenting information as facts without releasing the video.
“Shame on you,” she said. “We don’t want another person to stand up and give another account until we all see these tapes.”
Bishop Claude Alexander, senior pastor of Park Ministries, said releasing the video would “go a long way” toward appeasing critics.
“Their ability to release as much as soon as they can would help alleviate some of the tension, not all of it,” Alexander said.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-Charlotte, agreed.
“We must work together to ensure the process is swift, just and transparent,” Adams said in a statement Thursday. “That begins with actions like releasing the video and calling for transparency, accountability and collaboration.”
But U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, urged the public to allow time for a thorough investigation.
“We are all understandably interested in seeing the video, but we should be more interested in a thorough, accountable investigation and due process,” Pittenger said. “State law governs the release of the video. Our community will not benefit from trying this case on social media.”
A photo released by a source close to the investigation appeared to show a gun next to Scott’s body, according to WBTV, the Observer’s news partner.
But others have disputed that. Scott’s wife, Rakeiya Scott, released a statement Wednesday night questioning police statements.
“After listening to remarks made by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Putney today, we have more questions than answers about Keith’s death,” she said. “Rest assured, we will work diligently to get answers to our questions as quickly as possible.”
Rakeiya Scott also asked for peace.
“As a family, we respect the rights of those who wish to protest, but we ask that people protest peacefully,” she said in her statement. “Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that do not belong to you in the name of protesting.”
Observer staff writers Jim Morrill and Ronnie Glassberg, and Maggie Ybarra, in McClatchy’s Washington bureau, contributed.
More coverage of Charlotte police protests