What Mecklenburg DA should say in Keith Lamont Scott case

The Observer editorial board

Mecklenburg DA Andrew Murray will decide whether to press charges in the Keith Scott case.
Mecklenburg DA Andrew Murray will decide whether to press charges in the Keith Scott case.

Was Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Brentley Vinson justified in shooting and killing Keith Lamont Scott? Or did he overreact and act criminally by shooting Scott three times on Sept. 20?

The Mecklenburg County district attorney, Andrew Murray, is expected to announce as early as Wednesday whether Vinson will face criminal charges. Sources told the Observer that Murray’s office now has the results of the State Bureau of Investigation’s shooting review, in addition to the autopsy report.

Some residents, depending on where they stand, will hope that Vinson is charged; others will hope he’s exonerated. Despite the controversial nature of the case, no one who wasn’t there should take those sides. What we should all want is for the justice system to work effectively, wherever that leads.

Only people on the scene know precisely what happened when Vinson shot Scott in the abdomen, back and wrist in a cul-de-sac near his home. Only investigators who have studied all the evidence are equipped to decide whether Vinson was justified or should be charged with a crime.

So what can the public demand from Murray? Transparency. Specifics. Detailed explanations. An openness to answering the public’s questions.

The city is understandably on edge. Violent protests broke out the night of Scott’s shooting and in the week after. The scenes of police in riot gear and protesters filling the streets beamed into homes across the world, scarring Charlotte’s reputation and forcing the city to examine the seeds of the outcry.

The best way to avoid such a painful scene again is for the public to feel that the decision on Vinson was made with care, without fear or favor, and based on all the facts. Murray needs to say that and show that when he announces his office’s decision. He needs to explain his conclusion, whichever way it goes, in great detail to garner public confidence.

Was Scott holding a gun in his hand when he was shot? Was he reading a book in his car, as family members have said? Did the officer’s first shot enter the back, as the family’s lawyer has suggested? What exactly did Scott do, if anything, that could make Vinson believe his life was in danger?

We don’t pretend to know whether Vinson is guilty of a criminal offense. But if it’s a close call, prosecutors should err on the side of taking it to trial, where close calls are supposed to be adjudicated.

Police should also continue to examine their training and policies in the wake of the Scott shooting to see what lessons they can take going forward.

Regardless of what Murray and his office decide, we hope any reaction will be peaceful. The city, though, should be better prepared this time for any fallout. And we hope that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, under Chief Kerr Putney, will show the same admirable restraint that they did during the protests two months ago.