Charlotte police release body- and dash-cam video of Scott shooting
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has refused to release more than two hours of footage that video cameras captured at the University City apartment complex where police fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott last week.
On Saturday, CMPD released about two minutes of video footage, captured by a dashboard camera and a body camera, showing the moments immediately before and after the Sept. 20 shooting.
But the police body camera captured a total of 16 minutes of footage, while the dash-cam recorded an hour and 50 minutes.
The last 14 minutes of footage from the body camera shows officers performing CPR and providing medical help to Scott, according to CMPD lawyer Judy Emken.
Observer lawyer Jon Buchan said Emken told him Wednesday that the footage wasn’t released because it is “very violent” and too graphic. She said the video was not shown to Scott’s family for the same reasons.
The more than 100 minutes of video from the dash camera that have been withheld from the public shows only “police milling around about the scene and reveals nothing relevant to the shooting,” Emken told the Observer’s lawyer.
Transparency is essential to rebuilding trust. You don't achieve that by only releasing portions of videos.
Rick Thames, executive editor of the Charlotte Observer
Observer Executive Editor Rick Thames said the video that has been withheld may be important to the public.
“There are any number of questions the video could help answer, not the least of which is whether there was a gun at the scene, near where Keith Scott fell,” Thames said.
Police have said Scott was armed when he was shot. Family members have said he wasn’t. From the video released so far, it’s not clear whether he had a gun at the time. A photograph circulated last week on social media appeared to show a dark, L-shaped object a few feet from the soles of Scott’s shoes after he was shot.
Arguments for transparency
In a letter Monday to CMPD Chief Kerr Putney and interim City Manager Ron Kimble, written on behalf of the Observer and other news organizations, Buchan requested all the undisclosed footage.
CMPD and city officials have argued that the videos are not public records. They contend the footage falls within the definition of “reports of criminal investigations,” which are exempt from the state’s public records law.
In an interview with the Observer Wednesday, Putney said the department released all the video it legally could without adversely affecting the investigation into the shooting.
Thames said the news organizations requesting access disagree with the police department’s interpretation of the law. The videos, in their view, fall squarely within the North Carolina Public Records Act, Thames said.
“Transparency is essential to rebuilding trust,” Thames said. “You don’t achieve that by only releasing portions of videos. Think about what happened here. Any citizen had a right to be standing in that parking lot, observing what was happening on the day that Keith Lamont Scott was shot. Those cameras were there expressly to record what happened. It makes no sense to block the public’s view of what happened.”
Following intense criticism and recent calls for his resignation, Putney said Wednesday that his department would release more information to victim’s families and the public after police shootings. He told the Observer that the department would break from past practice and try to provide footage from dash-cams and body cameras once the cases are resolved.
The dash-cam and body-cam videos released so far both came from the same officer, Emken said.
About 50 other officers arrived at the scene after the shooting and all had cameras, Emken said. Those videos contain nothing of “relevance,” Emken said. They show officers driving to the scene, but the cameras were turned off as they arrived, she said.
Charles Monnett, a Charlotte lawyer who is helping to represent the Scott family, said that he too would like to see all of the video that has been withheld.
“We want information. And we want to be able to draw our own conclusions,” Monnett said. “And I think that’s where the community is. If we want trust, trust is based on openness.”
In his letter to city officials, Buchan said transparency gives the public an opportunity to understand government decisions.
“To paraphrase what the U.S. Supreme Court has said, while citizens don’t expect their public institutions to be infallible, it is difficult for them to accept what they are not allowed to observe,” Buchan said.
Observer Staff Writer Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed.