There's No 'Definitive' Proof Keith Scott Pointed a Gun at Officers

But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Chief Kerr Putney did say video appears to support the police’s account of why the black man was killed.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney (Chuck Burton / AP)

Charlotte’s police chief said Thursday that police bodycam video of the events that led to an officer killing Keith Lamont Scott does not show the 43-year-old black man brandishing a gun at police, but does support law enforcement’s version what happened on Tuesday.

Scott’s death has resulted in two consecutive nights of sometimes violent protests in Charlotte, North Carolina. One person was shot and critically wounded Wednesday night apparently by another protester. Several police officers received minor injuries. Businesses were vandalized, shops were looted, and police fired tear gas at protesters and arrested 44 people. The National Guard and the State Highway Patrol are helping local police and Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency.

At a news conference Thursday,  Kerr Putney, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief, said the bodycam videos he watched did not offer “absolute definitive, visual evidence” that Scott pointed his weapon at officers, as they had claimed.

“What I can tell you, though, is when taken 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.

Police had been at the apartment building where the shooting occurred looking for a different man who had an outstanding warrant. They said Scott was walking from his truck holding a handgun, and did not put the weapon down despite multiple warnings, compelling Officer Brentley Vinson, who is also black, to shoot him. Vinson, in line with department policy, has been placed on paid leave. Scott’s family says he was reading a book when he was shot. Police say they recovered a handgun, but no book, from the scene of the killing.

Putney, the police chief, said Scott’s family would be allowed to see the video, but insisted the footage would not be made public while the investigation was ongoing.

McCrory, the governor, at a separate news conference Thursday, said the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) would conduct an independent investigation of Scott’s death. Scott’s family had sought the investigation through the District Attorney’s Office.

“The SBI has been working with the city,” he said. “The SBI is currently participating and leading an investigation of the most recent incident that happened here in Charlotte Mecklenburg.”

McCrory said he spoke to President Obama on Thursday about the incident, calling the conversation “very nice.” Responding to the two nights of unrest, he said: “I just encourage patience for people.”

Scott’s killing Tuesday came just a day after Tulsa police released footage of an officer fatally shooting Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who had his hands up. According to a database maintained by The Guardian, more than 30 unarmed black men have been killed by police this year alone.

Charlotte, meanwhile, as my colleague David A. Graham reports, has “a tense relationship between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and its black citizens.” Here’s more:

The chief of Charlotte’s police force, Kerr Putney, is black, as was his predecessor, Rodney Monroe. But recent experience in cities like Baltimore has shown that having black police chiefs, as well as black mayors, is not a panacea for racist law enforcement and racially based community tension. The department is also 76 percent white and only 17 percent black, while Mecklenburg County overall is 64 percent white and 28 percent black. Brentley Vinson, the officer who shot Scott, is black.

Our related coverage is here and here.