Public gets another, valuable, look at Keith Scott case

The Observer editorial board

Officer Brentley Vinson shot Keith Lamont Scott during a standoff in September 2016.
Officer Brentley Vinson shot Keith Lamont Scott during a standoff in September 2016. File photo

Whether you think Officer Brentley Vinson was justified in killing Keith Lamont Scott last fall or not, you should recognize the valuable role Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board is playing in the case.

Yes, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has determined the shooting was justified. Yes, District Attorney Andrew Murray decided, after a thorough and professional review, that criminal charges should not be brought against Vinson.

But the review board, made up of 11 dedicated civilian volunteers, gives the public some reassurance that the shooting – which set off nights of unrest and made Charlotte the focus of the nation – is receiving a full review from all angles.

Murray’s finding ended any possibility of criminal charges in the case. His presentation last November was convincing, and the review board is not second-guessing his decision.

But whether CMPD was right to absolve Vinson of violating any policies or procedures is a different question, and not one that CMPD alone should consider.

The Citizens Review Board decided this week that there is enough evidence against CMPD’s conclusion to warrant a full hearing on Aug. 8. That does not mean the board believes the shooting was unjustified. It means only that the board has seen enough to want an even closer look. Whatever the board finds at that time, it is worthwhile to conduct an independent look at CMPD’s internal findings in such an explosive case.

The board was criticized when the Observer found, in 2013, that it had never sided against police in the 79 cases it had taken up since its founding in 1997.

If a majority does find police acted improperly in this case, it will ultimately have little power to do anything about it. Under that scenario, the board would provide its findings to Police Chief Kerr Putney and recommend that he reconsider and, presumably, discipline Vinson.

Putney can take or ignore the board’s recommendation, however. If he opts not to act on it, the matter would go to City Manager Marcus Jones. Jones’s decision would be a real test of the review board’s power. It would also be the final say on the review board’s recommendation.

The board is a diverse and representative cross-sample of Charlotte. It includes six men and five women, of all ages and political views, with varied professional backgrounds, and with nearly equal numbers of blacks and whites. (There are no Asians or Latinos on the board currently, though there have been in the past.)

They are not professional prosecutors, and they bring a lens to the deliberations that differs from Murray’s and Putney’s. All those lenses have value.

In the end, the Citizens Review Board might not change the outcome of Vinson’s case. But it might. Either way, in an era when police-community relations in Charlotte and around the country are strained, we’re glad the public has someone on its side taking a closer look.