State News

Focus shifts to police video of Charlotte shooting

Posted 11:32 a.m. Thursday
Updated 8:55 p.m. Thursday

— Charlotte's police chief said Thursday he plans to show video of an officer shooting a black man to the slain man's family, but the video won't be immediately released to the public.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney has said that 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott refused officers' repeated commands to drop a gun, but he said during a news conference that the video does not definitely show Scott pointing a gun at anyone.

Putney said he is working to honor the request from Scott's family to view the video. It's unclear when or if the video might be released publicly.

"Right now, my priority is the people who really are the victims of the shooting," Putney said. "I'm telling you right now, if you think I say we should display a victim's worst day for consumption, that is not the transparency I'm speaking of."

The video could be key to resolving the chasm between police, who say Scott refused repeated commands to drop his gun, and residents who say he was unarmed.

The NAACP and local clergy demanded that the video be released.

"We own those videos. We paid for them," said Rev. Peter Wherry, pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church.

"Transparency leads to the truth," said Rev. Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte branch of the NAACP.

Residents say Scott was unarmed, holding only a book, and disabled by a brain injury. Putney said investigators found a gun near Scott's body but didn't find a book.

It's unclear what the body cameras worn by three officers who were present during the shooting may have captured. The black, plainclothes officer who shot Scott, Brently Vinson, was not wearing a camera. He has been placed on leave, standard procedure in such cases.

Victim's family seeks answers

Justin Bamberg, a lawyer for Scott's family, said it's too soon to call for the public release of the police video, saying neither he nor Scott's relatives have seen what's on it.

"We have to be mindful of the feelings of the loved ones of the people who have died before we rally to say, 'Make the video public,'" Bamberg said.

Charles Monnett, another attorney for Scott's family, said he believes the family will eventually push for public release of the video after coming to terms with their grief.

"Ultimately, what the whole community wants is the truth," Monnett said. "These videos don't always hold all the answers, and everyone needs to reserve judgment until we know all of the facts."

Bamberg, who also represents the family of a black man killed by a north Raleigh homeowner this summer, criticized Charlotte police for "playing hide the ball" by releasing some details from their investigation while withholding others. That has contributed to the competing narratives of Scott's death, he said.

"This community deserves answers. They're hearing this side of the story and that side of the story," he said. "There's too much talk. We're here to get answers."

The State Bureau of Investigation is conducting an independent investigation into Scott's death at the request of his family.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts said the timing of the video's release depends on how the investigation progresses.

When asked if officials shouldn't be more transparent, she said: "The transparency would be helpful if the footage is clear and if it covers all the different parts of what happened that evening. Since I haven't seen it, I'm not certain of that and that may be the case. There were a couple of different body cameras, there was a dash camera, but as you know sometimes those can be not clear."

North Carolina has a law that takes effect Oct. 1 requiring a judge to approve any release of police video, and Police Chief Kerr Putney said he doesn't release video when a criminal investigation is ongoing.

Gov. Pat McCrory said he backs Putney's stance on the release of the video, disagreeing with a reporter's question during an afternoon news conference that the new law is more restrictive toward the release of police video.

As officials tried to quell the unrest, at least three major businesses were asking their employees to stay home for the day as the city remained on edge. Roberts told ABC's "Good Morning America" that officials were considering a curfew.

Officials, clergy urge calm

The streets were mostly quiet Thursday, but Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy all told employees not to venture into North Carolina's largest city after McCrory declared a state of emergency Wednesday night and called in the National Guard and the State Highway Patrol after the police chief said he needed the help. The North Carolina National Guard arrived at a Charlotte armory early Thursday, and the governor said members continued arriving through the day.

Federal help also is on the way, with the U.S. Justice Department sending to Charlotte a team of trained peacekeepers designed to help resolve community conflict. The department's Community Relations Service has been deployed to other cities roiled by tense flare-ups between police and residents.

"I know that the events of recent days are painfully unclear and call out for answers, but I also know that the answer will not be found in the violence of recent days," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. "I know that most of the demonstrators gathered to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful protest in order to raise issues and create change. We need your voice. We need your passion. We need your commitment. But I urge those responsible for the violence to stop. You are drowning out the voices of commitment and change and ushering in more tragedy and grief in our communities."

Scott's widow, Rakeiya Scott, also urged protesters to remain peaceful. Bamberg said she saw her husband get shot and was still too emotional two days later to discuss it.

"As a family, we respect the rights of those who wish to protest, but we ask that people protest peacefully," Rakeiya Scott said in a statement. "Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that do not belong to you in the name of protesting."

A peaceful prayer vigil Wednesday night turned into an angry march and then a night of violence after a protester was shot as people charged police in riot gear trying to protect an upscale hotel in Charlotte's typically vibrant downtown. The man died Thursday. Police did not shoot the man, city officials said.

Video obtained and verified by The Associated Press, which was recorded right after the shooting, shows someone lying in a pool of blood as people scream and a voice yells for someone to call for help. People are then told to back up from the scene.

Both McCrory and state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said a clear distinction needs to be made between the vast majority of protesters who were peaceful and the few that encouraged rioting. McCrory called them "agitators," while Barber referred to them as "provocateurs."

"We have some people whose goal is anarchy and not to respect the rule of law," McCrory said. "We also respect people who are truly legally protesting and expressing freedom of speech."

Barber criticized the actions of McCrory and Republican lawmakers, saying their efforts to restrict voting, limit Medicaid expansion and cut unemployment created the climate for the protests to get out of control.

"It's somewhat hypocritical to cry out about violence when you pass violent policies," he said.

Still, he and other ministers condemned the violence.

"We are against the violence. The violence in the street – tearing up property, hurting people – must stop, but the voice of protest and demanding transparency must never stop," Barber said.

"The unrest in Charlotte is not about black people hating police," he continued. "It's about black, white and brown people rising up against systems of injustice that protect officers who kill. That's what it's about. It's about saying we're against bad police because bad police make it bad for good police."

Charlotte residents: Riots wrong way to protest

The unrest took many by surprise in Charlotte, the banking capital of the South with a population of 830,000 people, about 35 percent of them black. The city managed to pull through a racially charged shooting three years ago without the unrest that erupted in recent years in places such as Baltimore, Milwaukee and Ferguson, Missouri.

In 2013, Charlotte police charged one of their own, Randall Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter within days, after the white officer shot an unarmed black man who had been in a wreck and was looking for help. The jury deadlocked and the charge was dropped last summer. The city saw a few protests but no violence.

On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters who were shouting "black lives matter" and "hands up, don't shoot" left after police fired flash grenades and tear gas after the shooting. But several groups of a dozen or more protesters stayed behind, attacking people, including reporters, shattering windows to hotels, office buildings and restaurants and setting small fires. The NASCAR Hall of Fame was among the places damaged.

Nine civilians and five police officers were hurt in the riot. Videos and pictures on Twitter showed reporters and other people being attacked. Police said 44 people were arrested.

"What happened last night is disgusting. It shouldn't have happened," Charlotte resident Jonathan Lee said. "I don't how to fix it. I mean, how do you fix it?"

Property owners spent much of Thursday cleaning up the damage from the violence and boarding up businesses to gird against any more riots.

"They did a lot of vandalism and a lot of damage to a lot of people's property, and I don't think that's the best way to protest," resident Mario Bianco said.

"I don't think that is the way they should be making their point because it damages the city and it makes everyone feel uncomfortable about walking outside," agreed resident Sophia Bacres.