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Police Misconduct: Keith Scott’s Family Sees Videos of His Killing, and Says the Public Should, Too

Posted on September 24, 2016 by Jesse Quackenbush

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The grieving relatives of a man who was killed by the police here watched videos on Thursday of the fatal shooting, a wrenching experience that they said revealed no hint of aggression in him and left the family members convinced that the videos should be made public. But the city’s police chief, who had arranged for the private viewing, held fast to his decision not to release the recordings.

The wife and other relatives of the dead man, Keith L. Scott, watched his killing from two angles, recorded Tuesday by police dashboard and body cameras, and “it was incredibly difficult,” a family lawyer, Justin Bamberg, said in a statement.

He said the family had come away with more questions than answers and a different interpretation from the account offered by the police, who have said that Mr. Scott, 43, was shot after he got out of his car brandishing a gun.

“When told by police to exit his vehicle, Mr. Scott did so in a very calm, nonaggressive manner,” Mr. Bamberg said. “While police did give him several commands, he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time.” When an officer opened fire, he added, “Mr. Scott’s hands were by his side, and he was slowly walking backwards.”

On Thursday night, hundreds of people gathered at an intersection in central Charlotte, holding signs and chanting, “We want the tapes!” in a peaceful demonstration.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts ordered a midnight-to-6-a.m. curfew, the first since the unrest began, though the demonstrations were largely peaceful, and the police did not enforce the curfew as it went into effect. The police said that two officers were being treated after protesters sprayed them with a chemical. There were no immediate reports of injuries to civilians.

On Thursday evening, some protesters marched to the police headquarters and held a moment of silence, fists raised in tribute to a man who was fatally shot during the previous night’s protest and to those killed by the police. They marched to the county jail and chanted for the inmates behind the slats. Some inside blinked their lights off and on in apparent solidarity.

Later, Interstate 277 was briefly shut down as demonstrators moved onto the roadway, and the police fired smoke to try to disperse them.

Mr. Scott’s death touched off violence in Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. As hundreds of National Guard troops and State Police officers fanned out across the city on Thursday in an effort to head off further violence, Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police brushed aside demands by activists, community leaders and the news media to make the police video public.

“We release it when we believe there is a compelling reason,” he said.

Until they viewed the videos on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Scott’s relatives had said they were uncertain whether they should be released to the public, according to Mr. Bamberg.

While the family members differed with the police on some major points about the videos, they seemed to be in agreement with Chief Putney on one aspect. “It is impossible to discern from the videos what, if anything, Mr. Scott is holding in his hands,” they said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Chief Putney said, “The video does not give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun.” He added later that he could not see Mr. Scott’s hands. But the chief, speaking at a news conference, said that eyewitness accounts and other evidence suggested that Mr. Scott was holding a pistol at the time he was shot, and that a weapon had been found at the scene.

Mr. Scott was black — as is the officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson — and his death added to a long list of killings of black men at the hands of law enforcement that had rocked cities and spurred protests around the country, bolstering claims of racial bias in policing.

On Thursday, a white officer in Tulsa, Okla., was charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting an unarmed black man last week — a case in which startling police video was released within days of the encounter.

During Wednesday night’s demonstrations, a protester was shot in the head in what the police described as a “civilian on civilian” episode. But some protesters accused the police of opening fire. Early Thursday evening, just about the time a crowd was gathering, the police announced that the man had died earlier in the day and that the department had begun a homicide investigation.

The police identified the victim as Justin Carr, 26, without elaborating further on his death.

Some black leaders and protesters have called for the public release of the videos from the outset, and those demands have grown louder in the succeeding days.

“There must be transparency, and the video must be released,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P.

He said the protesters who had taken to the streets here by the hundreds since Mr. Scott’s death were “rising up against systems of injustice that protect officers who kill.”

“It’s about saying we are against bad police, because bad police make it bad for good police,” Mr. Barber said.

In a day of rapid developments and rolling news conferences, local, state and federal officials called for calm. Protests had escalated the previous night, with some people smashing windows and storefronts, and the police used tear gas to disperse crowds and made 44 arrests. Nine civilians were injured, two officers had minor eye injuries, and three officers had heat exhaustion.

At 12:30 a.m. Thursday, local officials declared a state of emergency, calling for help from state forces, who deployed during the day in a show of strength throughout the city. Gov. Pat McCrory said he started mobilizing the National Guard early Wednesday in anticipation of that request, but he refused to second-guess Chief Putney and Mayor Roberts for not asking for help sooner.

The State Bureau of Investigation began an investigation of the case, the governor said, and critics of the police asked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to step in. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the Justice Department and the F.B.I. were monitoring events and offering help to local officials.

“I know that the events of recent days are painfully unclear and call out for answers,” Ms. Lynch said. “But I also know that the answer will not be found in the violence of recent days.”

Protests began Tuesday night after Officer Vinson shot Mr. Scott while the police were serving a warrant on someone else. Starkly different accounts have emerged about what happened. The police say Mr. Scott was holding a gun before he was shot; friends and family say it was a book. Though the videos do not offer definitive proof on their own, they support the official version of events, Chief Putney said.

“When taking in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth that we gave about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Mr. Scott,” he said. He added that the department’s practice was not to release video to the public, to protect the integrity of investigations.

Demonstrators and black community leaders said the outrage was not just about what had happened to Mr. Scott, but was fueled by a much broader context. “We need folks to understand there is a direct connection between the rioting and the creation of two separate groups based on class and race for decades,” said Justin Perry, an addiction counselor who is black and took part in the protest.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus pressed the Justice Department to do more by starting a thorough investigation into recent police shootings that had led to nationwide protests. Lawmakers from the 45-member group marched from the Capitol to the Justice Department to deliver a letter to Ms. Lynch, reinforcing the significance of their concerns.

Both Chief Putney and Mayor Roberts sought to reassure residents that the city was prepared to avert another night of violence. Ms. Roberts said that the city was safe. “Our transit system is running; our businesses are open; our center city is here to welcome you,” she said on Thursday morning.

Still, several large businesses encouraged employees to stay home after the chaos.

Wells Fargo told approximately 12,000 employees that they were not expected to report to work in Charlotte’s Uptown neighborhood. Those unable to work remotely would be paid regardless, a spokesman said. Ally, the financial services company, closed two offices in Charlotte, affecting 900 employees. Duke Energy asked 500 employees and contractors to work remotely, and Fifth Third Bank asked the same of its employees.

Story provided by New York Times.

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