Two days after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said that video and other evidence indicated the officer’s actions were justified.
“If I felt laws were broken, I would have taken action by now,” Putney said Sept. 22 about possible criminal charges against officer Brentley Vinson.
But CMPD’s investigation did not include a key witness whose account conflicts with Putney’s conclusion, says an attorney for the Scott family.
Charles Monnett told the Observer that CMPD never interviewed the victim’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, even though she witnessed the confrontation and made a cellphone video that captured part of the encounter.
“It seems as though, if you were trying to do a fair investigation, you’d want to see what (Rakeyia Scott’s video) shows before you go to the public and say your officer did no wrong,” he said. “In this case, that didn’t happen.”
On Monday, CMPD issued a statement, saying that detectives attempted to interview Rakeyia Scott, but she would not talk to them.
“Mrs. Scott refused any attempt detectives made to speak with her and would not allow detectives the opportunity to review the video footage,” the statement said.
Law enforcement experts and activists say mistrust between CMPD and residents helped spark violent protests that followed the police shooting.
Not enough is known about the investigation to judge whether CMPD thoroughly looked into the shooting, law enforcement experts said. But if true, they said failing to interview an eyewitness in the Scott case could hinder efforts to restore trust.
“I am trying to think of a good reason they wouldn’t interview her and I can’t think of one,” said Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. “Anytime this happens you want a full and complete investigation.”
The State Bureau of Investigation continues to investigate what happened Sept. 20 when Vinson shot Scott in the parking lot of a University City apartment complex where Scott lived.
Police said Scott was shot after he repeatedly refused orders to drop a handgun. Some neighbors and family maintain he was no threat to police and that he was the latest victim of ongoing violence against African-Americans by police. The officer who shot Scott is also black.
Rakeyia Scott spoke with the SBI last week and is cooperating with the investigation, Monnett said.
The SBI did not return phone calls seeking comment.
‘A lot we don’t know’
A report by the International Association of Police Chiefs recommends officers identify potential eyewitnesses and ask them for statements after police shootings.
A cellphone video released by the Scott family shows Rakeyia Scott moving toward the parking lot where officers confronted her husband. She can be heard telling officers he has a traumatic brain injury and shouting instructions to her husband.
Police say they first approached Scott because he had marijuana and a gun.
They have also said Scott was armed when he was shot. From the video released by police so far, there’s no gun in view.
Rakeyia Scott believes that the police shooting was unnecessary, Monnett said.
When officers did not interview her, Monnett said, it fed suspicions that the department was conducting a biased investigation.
“This is an example of a small step they could have taken to reduce suspicion – and at least give the appearance of a fair investigation to those closest to the situation.”
“If I wanted to assure the family that they were going to have a voice, I would have said: ‘Would you like to talk to us?’ ”
Law enforcement experts said it would be stunning if officers did not at attempt to interview Rakeyia Scott.
In most cases, they said, law enforcement wants to speak with witnesses as soon as possible because memories of events can fade or become altered over time.
Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, said eyewitness accounts could be especially significant in the Scott case since the videos do not provide clear-cut answers about what happened.
“There are things you just can’t tell,” Alpert said. “There’s just a lot we don’t know.”