‘What weapon?’ Witness says man shot, killed by CMPD didn’t have a gun
Faced with protests and long-standing questions about fatal police shootings, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Wednesday that his department is reviewing rules on when officers use lethal force.
CMPD wants to put a stronger emphasis on de-escalation tactics that can help officers defuse encounters without resorting to their weapons, Putney said at a news conference.
“Preservation of life is at the core,” Putney said.
There have been three CMPD shootings since December, including two that were fatal.
Putney’s remarks come more than two weeks after the fatal police shooting of a 27-year-old man at a Burger King in west Charlotte that has prompted protests and shined light on tensions between CMPD and the African-American community.
CMPD and protesters have offered conflicting accounts about the killing of Danquirs Franklin. The officer is white and Franklin was black.
A judge will decide when police video of the confrontation should be released to the public. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday, CMPD said.
Putney said his comments were not connected to the possible release of the video. He refused to answer questions about the shooting, saying only that the criminal investigation might be finished in two weeks.
But he cautioned the public about drawing conclusions about police shootings based solely on camera footage.
“No one piece of evidence can tell you the whole story,” Putney said. “There are always pieces that have to be pieced together.”
Kass Ottley, a protest organizer, said Putney’s comments likely would worsen relations with the community.
Activists and others are angry the department has released little information about Franklin’s March 25 death despite past promises from Putney to increase transparency. Many are convinced CMPD wrongly killed Franklin, Ottley said.
She said pushing officers to use de-escalation tactics is a worthy goal, but said few believe officers will be held accountable for shootings if they don’t follow the rules.
“You want to build trust in the community, but you are not transparent,” Ottley said. “That’s why there is no trust. That’s why there has been no healing.”
Under CMPD rules, officers can use deadly force if they or others face imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death.
But CMPD and hundreds of police departments across the nation train officers to gain the person’s cooperation before resorting to lethal force through methods known as de-escalation tactics. A prominent law enforcement group recommends departments avoid over-reliance on weapons.
If feasible, CMPD policy says, verbal dialogue and commands seeking to defuse situations should be used throughout encounters. That can include speaking calmly and slowly and keeping a safe distance from a suspect.
Putney did not say how the department would change the existing rules. He said the use of force policy could be “revamped” to put more emphasis on de-escalation in cases where officers have enough time to use the methods.
“All of our people have embraced the idea,” he said.
CMPD used Wednesday’s news conference to highlight how officers used de-escalation to apprehend a man that allegedly threatened to shoot his daughter, himself and others. He had said he would “shoot it out” with police if they came, CMPD said.
On Monday, CMPD said, officers tracked the man to an apartment where he had taken a small child.
A SWAT team captured the man when he came outside the apartment alone without firing shots. Officers rescued the girl who was inside the apartment.
Lt. Brad Koch said officers made the arrest without any injuries.
“They used every tool available to them,” Koch said.
‘Something is not right’
Violent protests erupted after the 2016 fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
Activists and some policing experts harshly criticized the department, saying the officers involved took steps that raised the chances the encounter with Scott would become violent and did not use de-escalation training.
Protesters say officers are still too quick to resort to lethal force.
Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston has proposed that CMPD meet with council members to answer questions about the department’s use of force policies.
“The status quo is not OK,” said Winston, who rose to prominence after protesting the Scott shooting. “We need a different public conversation.”
Winston and other city council members have acknowledged that questions persist about whether Franklin was armed at the time of the shooting.
Police say he had a gun and was shot after he didn’t follow commands to drop it. At least one woman, Precious Robinson, said she witnessed the shooting, and has disputed the police account.
In 2010, the Observer profiled Franklin and the struggles he overcame to graduate from high school.
His mother, Deborah, said that Franklin “had cocaine in his body when he was born. … I did drugs all nine months I was pregnant,” according to the 2010 story.
Emily Castillo Leon was a teacher at Phllip O. Berry High School in west Charlotte when Franklin came to her English class as 10th grader.