Family, police see different tale in same videos

Published: Sep. 23, 2016 at 9:19 AM EDT
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CMPD Chief Kerr Putney says he did not see on the video a definitive act of pointing the gun at...
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney says he did not see on the video a definitive act of pointing the gun at his officers but that the evidence points to an imminent threat (John D. Simmons | Charlotte Observer)
Sundries EpiCentre was among the businesses that faced looting and damage overnight after...
Sundries EpiCentre was among the businesses that faced looting and damage overnight after violent Charlotte protests (Davie Hinshaw | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - (Mark Washburn, Jim Morrill and Adam Bell/Charlotte Observer) - Two narratives of the police videos showing the fatal shooting of a Charlotte man emerged Thursday – one from police saying the shots appeared justified, another from the family of Keith Lamont Scott saying he was killed while walking backward, hands at his side.

"After watching the videos," said Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott's relatives, "the family again has more questions than answers."

Bamberg said the videos, from dashboard and body cameras worn by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers, showed Scott getting out of his vehicle when ordered to by officers.

Scott's demeanor was calm and nonaggressive, said Bamberg, who called upon CMPD to release the videos publicly in the name of transparency.

"While police did give him several commands," the attorney said, "he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time."

Bamberg echoed the observation of police who also examined the footage – that it was impossible to see whether Scott was holding a weapon, or anything else, in his hands.

Scott's hands were by his side, Bamberg said, and he was walking slowly backward when shot.

"It was incredibly difficult for members of the Scott family to view these videos, but as a matter of the greater good and transparency," Bamberg said, "the Scott family asks that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department publicly immediately release both of the videos they watched today."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney said he reviewed the videos and they do not "give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that will confirm a person was pointing a gun. I did not see that in the video."

But Putney said the "totality" of the evidence supports the police conclusion that officers confronting Scott faced an imminent, deadly threat.

Putney said the videos would not be released because, among other reasons, it might infringe upon a parallel state investigation into the shooting.

Uptown quiet

Meanwhile Thursday, Mayor Jennifer Roberts proclaimed that Charlotte was open for business and assured citizens that order would be maintained.

But on the streets, institutions across uptown shuttered their doors – some covered with plywood after marauders shattered facades in a riotous rampage the night before sparked by the shooting of a black man by police.

"People are walking the street, conducting business, as usual as normal," said Roberts, noting that Charlotte has largely and traditionally worked out its racial problems without violence.

Humvees pulled into Charlotte's National Guard garrison, responding to a state of emergency declared by Gov. Pat McCrory, who also ordered the State Highway Patrol to reinforce troopers in Charlotte.

And the city's most prominent businesses – including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Fifth Third Bank and Ally Financial – encouraged tens of thousands of uptown staffers to work from home. Museums of the Levine Center for the Arts on Tryon Street closed.

Among developments Thursday:

  • Authorities imposed a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew on the city.
  • State Bureau of Investigation agents, at the behest of Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray, began an independent inquiry into the shooting Tuesday of Keith Lamont Scott.

Murray acted after Scott's family requested the probe – under state law, he is required to ask the SBI to investigate after a request from the family of a person killed with a firearm by an on-duty officer.

By early Thursday afternoon, two dozen agents with the SBI were at the scene of the shooting, at The Village at College Downs complex in northeast Charlotte.

  • Several hundred members of the N.C. National Guard and State Highway Patrol troopers were sent to Charlotte to maintain order after two nights of violence.
  • Questions were raised about the city’s response to violence Wednesday night and whether more resources should have been available to meet the situation.

'Negative impact'

"We are not going to let a few hours give a negative impact on our great city," McCrory said Thursday. He praised the work of the local authorities in the city where he served as mayor for 14 years.

McCrory said he'd discussed the situation with President Barack Obama. Roberts also spoke to the president, and she took a call from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to discuss restoring bonds of trust between police and their communities.

Putney said police made 44 arrests overnight Wednesday. Five officers and nine civilians were injured.

With the National Guard available to protect buildings and Highway Patrol units ready to deal with traffic Thursday, he said, the police would be free to move against criminals and vandals.

Roberts defended the city's decision not to seek additional resources from the state until early Thursday.

"I rely on my experts to give me appropriate advice. We made the decision when the resources were needed at the appropriate time."

Shooting Tuesday

Scott, 43, was fatally shot Tuesday afternoon in the University area. The officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson, 26, is also black.

Police said Scott held a handgun as he got out of a car in The Village at College Downs apartment complex on Old Concord Road. But others claimed he was reading a book.

Police said they found a gun but no book at the scene.

Scott's shooting exploded on social media and drew national attention in the wake of other police shootings of black men that fueled protests around the country.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department moved to send Community Relations Servicestaffers who specialize in communities in crisis to Charlotte.

'A lot of looting'

At the news conference, Putney was asked why police allowed the situation to escalate out of control.

"We felt pretty comfortable that we could handle what we were going to encounter," he said, adding that when it exceeded their capacity, they sought help.

"We had a lot of looting, and our intention is to protect those assets so we don't have further damage," Putney said.

Roberts was asked why she didn't accept the state's offer of additional resources when they were offered at 7 a.m. Wednesday. The mayor said she didn't anticipate needing them.

"We were in conversations with the governor early in the morning," she said, adding that the city had indications that the protests would be peaceful. She was in constant contact with Putney.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James criticized the delay.

"She evidently had this Pollyanna view of the world where she thought it would be a Kumbaya moment and they wouldn't riot," James said. "What I don't understand is why she thought so highly of this mob after what they did the first night."

McCrory refused to second-guess Charlotte's efforts, saying, "I'm never going to judge the people on the ground." He said he'd begun assembling National Guard troops early Wednesday in anticipation they would be needed.

He also said what happened in Charlotte could have happened anywhere.

Most protesters peaceful

State NAACP President William Barber said the overwhelming majority of protesters have been peaceful and called for an end to violence in the streets.

"As people of faith – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – there is a great tradition of supporting righteous, justice-seeking, nonviolent protest that is rooted in legitimate discontent," he said.

Barber said the media shouldn't focus on the "few provocateurs who have chosen to meet hate with hate."

Robin Tanner, lead minister of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, accused police of marching toward protesters and that officers gave no command to move.

"They marched us into the Omni," she said. "Last night did not have to end like it ended. It did not have to end like it ended. … We have critical hours now as our city's being militarized."

Thursday in uptown

During the day Thursday, peace returned to uptown.

Reporters, and state troopers in tactical gear, centered around the EpiCentre, the entertainment complex at College and Trade streets that faced looting and sustained significant damage the night before. Businesses attacked there included Sundries EpiCentre, CVS, Enso and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse.

Workers from uptown buildings and disaster recovery outfits were out Thursday morning replacing windows and cleaning up damage from the protests.

Ryan McLeod, 32, was removing broken glass from the Charlotte Convention Center. "I don't agree with none of this. It's not making the situation any better," he said.

"I understand the frustration, but rioting and damaging buildings doesn't fix the problem."

The NASCAR Hall of Fame was among the other sites hit by vandals. On Thursday morning, a street sign hung from the front window of the hall's news center after vandals tried to pry out the front window.

Adjacent restaurants and hotels were also damaged, with doors and windows broken out.

Vandals also hit the headquarters of the region's United Way, near the hall of fame. The United Way building had its lobby windows smashed out.

Stay home, workers told

Michael Smith, the head of Charlotte Center City Partners, urged businesses to remain open Thursday, "standing together as one Charlotte in our central business district."

But given the "ongoing civil unrest," Bank of America told its employees not to report to their uptown offices on Thursday. Wells Fargo also told all non-essential employees to work from home.

Carolina Panthers officials met to discuss security measures for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against Minnesota.

"We are planning to play the game as scheduled on Sunday," the NFL said in a statement. "We are monitoring events in Charlotte and have been in communication with local officials and authorities, and both the Carolina Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings."

Wednesday night protests

A man shot Wednesday night in uptown during the protests died Thursday. He was identified as Justin Carr, 26, of Charlotte.

Putney said video of the shooting is being reviewed. There were allegations that an officer was involved, he said "and we are investigating that to seek the truth."

Peaceful protests Wednesday night turned chaotic about 8:30 p.m. when some people entered the EpiCentre dining and entertainment complex and the Omni Hotel on Trade Street.

Glass was broken, some stores were looted – including the Charlotte Hornets NBA team store – and fights broke out on the street. Police in riot gear moved in using tear gas and flash-bang grenades to scatter the crowd.

Staff writers Mark Price, Elizabeth Leland, Celeste Smith, Ely Portillo, Ronnie Glassberg, Helen Schwab, Joseph Person, Rick Rothacker, Joe Marusak and Katherine Peralta contributed.