Charlotte officer didn’t activate body camera until after fatal police shooting
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Ames Alexander/The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg police did not capture key video footage of last week's fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott because a responding officer apparently didn't turn on his body camera until after police had already shot the victim – a violation of department policy.
On Saturday, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department released portions of video footage, captured by a dashboard camera and a body camera, showing the moments immediately before and after the Sept. 20 shooting.
Roughly the first half-minute of body-camera footage includes no sound. A police spokesman said that's because the body cameras worn by patrol officers don't begin recording audio until officers activate them. But the body cams do have a function that silently captures video for a short period before they're activated.
In last week's police shooting, the silent portion of the body cam video shows an officer next to Scott's SUV with his gun drawn, pointing toward the front seat. It also shows the officer who is wearing the camera striking a baton against a passenger-side window. No sound is recorded in that video until Scott is already lying on the pavement after the shooting.
According to CMPD policy, uniformed officers are supposed to activate their body cameras before interactions with citizens that involve traffic stops, suspicious vehicles, "voluntary investigative contact" and arrests. "Voluntary investigative contact" is defined as what police do when they suspect criminal activity, as they did when they approached Scott after reportedly seeing marijuana and a gun in his car.
Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina, said it's clear to her that the officer wearing the body camera violated policy by not activating the device sooner.
"A body camera policy is not worth the paper it's written on if officers aren't abiding by the standards and protocols we expect them to be using," Birdsong said.
If the officer had activated the camera earlier, she said, it might have provided more insight into what – if any – efforts police had taken to deescalate the situation and why they felt a need to use deadly force.
CMPD has not identified the officer who was wearing the body cam in Scott's case.
In January 2015, Charlotte City Council agreed to spend $7 million on about 1,400 new body cameras for police. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said that the new body cameras are being rolled out across the department and not all tactical officers have them yet.
Officer Brentley Vinson, who police said fired four shots at Scott, was not wearing a body cam, so his visual perspective was not part of the footage.
ACLU: Release more video
The ACLU is calling on Charlotte police to release all the remaining video footage of the events surrounding the shooting.
"The videos released this weekend raise a host of questions about why police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, and whether, in doing so, the officers involved violated state or federal law, in addition to failing to follow the department's own rules regarding the use of deadly force, deescalation, when to wear and activate body cameras, and more," said Birdsong, the ACLU's lawyer.
CMPD spokesman Robert Tufano said the department has released all the available footage of the shooting and the events leading up to it. But there may be additional video from officers who pulled up to the scene after the shooting, Tufano said.
"THE PUBLIC AND MR. SCOTT'S FAMILY DESERVE TO SEE AND HEAR ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION ABOUT WHETHER SOMETHING WAS IN HIS HAND AND WHY A MAN WHO WAS SUSPECTED OF NO CRIME, OTHER THAN THE NEWLY DISCLOSED ACCUSATION THAT HE POSSESSED A MINOR AMOUNT OF MARIJUANA, IS NOW DEAD."
- Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina
A new state law will soon prevent police agencies from releasing body camera footage to the public without a court order. That law does not go into effect until Oct. 1.
"The public and Mr. Scott's family deserve to see and hear all available information about whether something was in his hand and why a man who was suspected of no crime, other than the newly disclosed accusation that he possessed a minor amount of marijuana, is now dead," Birdsong said.
The ACLU called on police to "stop releasing information to the public on a piecemeal basis and to disclose all remaining body and dash camera footage, as well as audio of dispatch recordings, of the moments before and after Mr. Scott was killed."
The Observer has also requested those videos and audio recordings.
Chief: Officers acted appropriately
Police officers say they saw Scott armed with a handgun when he exited his vehicle at a University City apartment complex. Charlotte police have released photos of the gun they say was recovered from the scene, and they say Scott's fingerprints, DNA and blood were on the gun.
Scott's family members, however, have said they believe Scott was unarmed.
The video footage released Saturday shows the 43-year-old African-American man taking four steps slowly backward with his arms at his sides when he is hit in a burst of four gunshots from police. Scott then falls to the pavement.
The available videos do not clearly identify what, if anything, Scott had in his hands. But police can be heard repeatedly shouting "Drop the gun!" at Scott, who died from his wounds Tuesday as his wife stood nearby.
Chief Putney has said he has found nothing to indicate that Vinson acted inappropriately, given the totality of the circumstances, and he does not think his officers broke the law that day. They were, he said, reacting to what appeared to be an imminent threat.
Scott's criminal record
New details on Scott's criminal record also emerged on Monday.
In 2005, he was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he shot and injured a man in San Antonio, Texas. He fired more than 10 rounds from a 9-millimeter pistol, according to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Scott was sentenced to seven years in prison for the assault and for subsequently trying to evade arrest. Documents show that he unsuccessfully petitioned the court for a sentence reduction, arguing that he was acting in self defense and trying to protect his family.
Scott got out of prison in 2011. But in October 2015, his wife, Rakeyia, filed for a restraining order against him. In her petition, she said that law enforcement officials should consider her husband a potential threat because he carried a 9-millimeter gun.