Open up, CMPD, on Diaz shooting

The Observer editorial board

Family and friends listen to others speak about Josue Javier Diaz the day after he was shot by an undercover detective.
Family and friends listen to others speak about Josue Javier Diaz the day after he was shot by an undercover detective. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

“The more you hide, the less people trust you,” City Council member Claire Fallon said about police after the Keith Scott shooting last fall.

That truth bears repeating now that another Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer has killed a man under questionable circumstances. An undercover officer shot and killed Josue Javier Diaz on Jan. 26, and the public has as many questions today as it did the day of the shooting.

Who was the officer? Could Diaz’s death have been avoided? Did the officer shoot only after Diaz shot first? Is there evidence to counter Diaz’s friend’s claim that Diaz’s gun never left his car’s glove compartment?

Police have said little publicly. They and District Attorney Andrew Murray need to conduct a thorough investigation, of course, and not dribble evidence out to the public bit by bit. But given the national context and tensions in this community around police behavior following the Scott shooting, CMPD should be asking itself: Are we doing everything we can in the Diaz shooting to maintain community trust?

CMPD’s communication to the public on this case has been minimal. The public’s relatively quiet response to the shooting compared with the Scott case should not lull the police department into being less than transparent. A family doesn’t even know the identity of the officer who killed their brother, father and son – a first in memory if the officer remains anonymous. Without that name, the public cannot know the officer’s history of use of force and other salient details.

Diaz apparently sideswiped the undercover officer’s car on Albemarle Road. The officer then started following Diaz. At some point, Diaz got out of his car and began walking toward the officer’s car.

What happened after that is in dispute. Police say Diaz had a gun and the officer felt threatened. Diaz’s passenger says his gun stayed in the glove compartment and Diaz was approaching the officer to apologize.

It is entirely possible that the officer acted appropriately. But with competing narratives in play, as there were with the Scott shooting, police should do what they can, now, to assuage the public’s concerns. Many questions would persist even if it’s proven that Diaz had a gun in his hand, but it would do much to corroborate the little police have said so far.

Police could show a photo of a bullet hole in the officer’s car. They could make video available if it exists. They could, at a minimum, say this:

“Josue Diaz’s death is a tragedy. We are conducting a thorough investigation and will make all aspects of it public when it is complete in coming weeks. What we can say now is that Diaz fired a shot at the officer, and here is a photo of where it entered his car.”

The law may not require that. But public confidence – the police department’s single biggest asset – does. Silence breeds mistrust.

When the Keith Scott shooting and its aftermath became such a horrible chapter in Charlotte history, Police Chief Kerr Putney promised more transparency going forward. In the name of building public trust, now’s the time for Putney to do just that.