CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Citizens Review Board (CRB) in Charlotte announced a split decision Thursday afternoon after holding a private evidentiary hearing into the Keith Lamont Scott case.
In June, the Citizen's Review Board found "potential error" in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney's decision to justify Officer Brentley Vinson's actions. Vinson shot and killed Scott on September 20 after police say he wouldn't comply with their orders. According to police, a gun was found on his body.
The board reviewed the findings of CMPD's internal investigation which decided Vinson was justified in shooting Scott last September.
On Thursday, after two full days of the hearing and a half day of deliberating, eight members of the CRB reached a split decision on whether a mistake was made in CMPD in regards to the fatal shooting of Scott.
"The CRB has thoroughly and comprehensively considered for nearly three days the evidence and arguments in this tragic matter. The CRB members grieve for the Scott family and our larger community. This matter is complex as well as tragic and the CRB's decision today reflects that complexity," Sandra Donaghy, who is the chair of the board, said during the open session.
"On the question of whether the chief of police or his designee clearly erred in determining whether the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott was justified, the board's vote was split 4-4, therefore the board was unable to reach a majority decision and will not be recommending the chief reverse his decision," Donaghy said.
"The good news, I believe, is that up until this point every citizen that has every really come before the board has lost," Justin Bamberg said, who is the Scott family attorney. "I do not consider a 4-4 split a loss. I consider it a win for not just the Scott family but a win for the citizens of Charlotte."
Bamberg commended and thanked the volunteers who serve on the board, and called the hearing a time consuming process.
"We've got a long way to go in the realm of police use of force," Bamberg said. "We have a long way to go in the realm of citizen law enforcement relations and it's something - we kinda said from the beginning - that it's going to take effort from each and every person not just here in Charlotte, but across NC and the country."
Attorney George Laughrun, who represents Vinson, told WBTV that his client is "pleased with the decision and is anxious to get back to work without worrying about what's coming next."
Laughrun said the CRB "worked very hard, took the hearing seriously, and examined a lot of evidence." Laughrun said the board represents a cross section of the community and couldn't decide whether the chief was right or wrong.
Laughrun added the split decision means the chief's decision will stand and that "it's time for Charlotte to move on and get closure."
Laughrun, who presented the officer's side to the CRB during the hearing, said the board worked long and hard to get to a decision and the vote shows how diligently they did work.
The volunteers on the board who heard the case say they all agree some changes are needed at CMPD.
The CRB is supposed to have 11 volunteers on the board, but there is currently one vacancy. Two members were absent during the Scott hearing this week.
"By a unanimous vote of 8-0, the CRB will be making policy recommendations to the CMPD considering policies applied and the decisions made by the officers involved in the events of Sept 20th 2016," Donaghy said. "The CRB regrets that those recommendations will be made in the context of a confidential personnel matter and therefore will be considered confidential as a matter of NC law. The CRB cannot and will not comment on what those policies, recommendations will be."
An attorney for the CRB said "less than 10" witnesses appeared before the board members. The board "reviewed the comprehensive documentary and testimonial evidence in this case as well as all videos that the public has seen."
"Any decision whether pro-police or pro-Scott family will be unsatisfactory to various segments of this community," said Cary Davis, counselor to the CRB. "Whether individuals agree with or dislike the CRB's decision, they should appreciate and respect that Charlotte has a process for volunteer citizens to consider this important issues and serve as an independent check on the police department."
Davis went on to say "NC state law is clear that the CRB broader policy recommendations cannot be shared by the CRB with the public at large. The board appreciates that the public may not like that reality either."
Attorney Bamberg said "there were obvious tactical issues presented with the way they approached Keith, with the reason why they initially began to interact with him in the first place."
"I would like to see some things in there about if you're going to interact with a citizen what's the best way to do that and more importantly what's the best way to do that and at the same time minimize the potential risk of bodily injury to the individual and the officer, or worse case the death of someone," Bamberg said.
The city of Charlotte released this following statement on Twitter following the announcement of the split decision:
Advocates who have been working to get the CRB more power said they're disappointed the entire board didn't hear the case.
"Not having an odd number is a very big concern for me right now," Corinne Mack said, who is a member of the local chapter of the NAACP and Safe Coalition NC.
The CRB wouldn't give the racial breakdown of the split vote.
"So we're not sure who voted how, but there is a divide in this city and we have to find ways to overcome those divides," Mack said. "I am more concerned with the CRB – make sure we have a stronger citizens involvement - and I'm simply saying based on what happened today if you know going into a hearing with an even number the likelihood is you're going to have a split decision."
"It's important that whatever we do, we do it in a way that's going to be at least giving the citizens the opportunity to have a fair decision," Mack added.
City officials say the CRB evidentiary hearing is confidential because it involves a personnel issue. They have not said how many witnesses the board members heard from or how many pieces of evidence were reviewed. Witnesses in the case appeared before the board voluntarily.