Newly released police video of a black man’s fatal shooting, sought by protesters for days, isn’t settling questions about whether the man threatened police with a gun before he was felled by a black officer.
Police said Keith Lamont Scott had a gun, though residents have said he was unarmed. It’s not apparent in the video if he’s holding anything shortly before he was shot. The dramatic video released by Charlotte police shows officers with guns drawn surrounding the man just before the shooting. In the dashboard camera video released Saturday night, Scott could be seen slowly backing away from his SUV with his hands down. Four shots are heard in quick succession, and he crumples to the ground mortally wounded.
After the police vehicle dashboard camera and police body-cam videos were released, a fifth day of protests against Scott’s fatal shooting was largely peaceful. Police blocked off downtown streets late into the night as they had throughout the day, allowing demonstrators to take over roadways without confrontations with vehicles. Police also released photos on Saturday of what they said was a loaded handgun found at the scene, adding it bore Scott’s DNA and fingerprints. They also said Scott had marijuana.
Relatives and their attorney said their questions aren’t answered by the release of partial police video footage.
“There is no definitive evidence in this video as to whether or not there is an object in his hand, and if there is, what that object is,” said Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott’s family. “But what we do know is that the moment Mr. Scott is shot, it appears as though he’s not aggressively moving toward law enforcement; he’s actually doing the opposite. He’s passively stepping back.” Ray Dotch, Scott’s brother-in-law, said some reporters had been looking into Scott’s background but added that background shouldn’t matter.
“What we know and what you should know about him is that he was an American citizen who deserved better,” he said. The dashboard camera footage opens with a police car pulling up as two officers point their guns at Scott, who is inside the SUV with the doors closed and windows rolled up. Scott gets out and begins walking backward before shots are fired.
From a different angle, newly released police body camera footage shows an officer approach with his gun drawn and another officer already pointing his gun at Scott. When Scott comes into view, his hands are at his side and he’s standing beside his SUV. The body camera footage doesn’t show the moment shots are fired, and Scott is next seen on the ground. Police Chief Kerr Putney said that Scott was “absolutely in possession of a handgun.”
Police officers didn’t break the law but the State Bureau of Investigation continues to pursue the case, he said. “Officers are absolutely not being charged by me at this point, but again, there’s another investigation ongoing,” Putney said.
A police narrative released along with the video gives the most complete account yet by the agency of what brought Scott to police attention. Two plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle were preparing to serve a warrant on someone else when Scott pulled up and parked next to them, according to the document. The officers saw Scott rolling a marijuana cigar, or blunt, though they didn’t consider it a priority at first, it said. But then one of the officers saw him hold up a gun, the document states.
“Due to the combination of illegal drugs and the gun Mr. Scott had in his possession, officers decided to take enforcement action for public safety concerns,” the document said. The narrative says Scott didn’t respond to repeated commands to drop his weapon.
Those commands aren’t heard in the body camera video, which doesn’t have audible sound until after the shooting. A separate video reportedly shot by Scott’s wife includes audio of police demanding that the man drop the weapon, and Rakeyia Scott insisting her husband doesn’t have one. Before the release of the video, hundreds of people had peacefully massed outside at the Charlotte police department building on Saturday afternoon chanting the name “Keith Scott.” They also chanted, “No tapes, no peace” and raised signs including one reading “Stop Killing The Black People.” Peaceful protests continued after the video release.
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The city has been on edge ever since Scott’s shooting death. The demonstrations reached a violent crescendo on Wednesday before the National Guard was called in a day later to maintain order. Forty-four people were arrested after Wednesday’s protests, and one protester who was shot died at a hospital Thursday. City officials said police did not shoot 26-year-old Justin Carr, and a suspect was arrested.
The next two nights of protests were free of property damage and violence, with organizers stressing a message of peace at the end of the week. Charlotte is the latest U.S. city to be shaken by protests and recriminations over the death of a black man at the hands of police, a list that includes Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York and Ferguson, Missouri.