Human Rights

Cops in Charlotte Keep Dashcam Video of Killing Under Wraps, as Major Opposition Builds Throughout the City

Witnesses in Charlotte question official narrative, ask press to dig deeper.

Photo Credit: Schmidt_Alex / Shutterstock.com

Defying mounting calls for transparency, Charlotte, North Carolina, police are refusing to publicly release dash-camera footage showing their officer’s killing of Keith Lamont Scott, as city officials maintain tight control over the media narrative surrounding ongoing protests.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters on Thursday that, despite demands from the ACLU and NAACP, he will not release footage of Officer Brentley Vinson’s deadly shooting of Scott, proclaiming he will do so “when there is a compelling reason.” Because Putney claims Vinson was not wearing a body camera at the time of the killing, his withholding of the video constitutes a significant media blackout. The police chief said he will share the footage with Scott's family, but did not provide a precise timeline.

Tamika Lewis, an organizer with the Charlotte-based organizations the Tribe and the Trans and Queer People of Color Collective, told AlterNet that there is "compelling reason" to make the evidence public. “I think their jobs, their duties and their oaths to ‘protect and serve’ should be compelling reason, as well as the people demanding its release and paying respects to the family,” said Lewis. “I think this shows the lack of transparency and how they are more concerned with protecting the police image than serving and protecting the folks of Charlotte.”

Notably, Putney stated that the footage does not provide "definitive visual evidence" that Scott pointed a gun at the police. “I did not see that in the videos I reviewed,” he said. “What I can tell you though is that, taken in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth we gave about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Mr. Scott.”

The admission raises questions about the department’s earlier claims that Scott “posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers and Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon striking the subject.”

Family members and witnesses say that Scott was disabled from a brain injury and sitting unarmed in his car reading a book when he was shot and killed by police. Lewis called the law enforcement narrative “convoluted,” noting: “All of the witness testimony that we've heard and seen from that community has been in support of the family's narrative of what happened and not the police's.”

Even if Scott did have a gun, North Carolina is an open-carry state, and concealed carry is also legal with a permit. “The mere possession of a handgun does not give the police probable cause or reasonable suspicion to briefly detain you for stop and frisk,” Gregory Wallace, a law professor at Campbell University in Raleigh, told the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. “The mere fact that you have a handgun isn’t enough—it’s legal in North Carolina.”

Rakeyia Scott, Keith Scott's wife, said in a statement released Wednesday, “Rest assured, we will work diligently to get answers to our questions as quickly as possible.” She added, “My family is devastated by the shooting death of my husband.”

Chief Putney’s refusal to release the footage came less than 24 hours after reports emerged that an individual had been shot and critically wounded during ongoing uprisings against the police killing of Scott.

The city of Charlotte took to social media to claim that the person was wounded at the hands of a “civilian,” though that same tweet erroneously reported that the attack had been fatal (this was later corrected).

The story of a civilian-on-civilian shooting instantly dominated the media coverage of the shooting. “A protester was shot by a civilian in Charlotte during another night of intense protests, according to officials,” stated the opening sentence of the Associated Press story published Wednesday night.

Witnesses and protesters are now publicly questioning the official story and calling on major media outlets to dig deeper. AlterNet spoke with three individuals present during Wednesday night's shooting who said that the police role in escalating violence, and making the situation more unsafe, went underreported.

Minister Steve Knight of Missiongathering Christian Church in Charlotte told AlterNet on Wednesday night, “Police were escalating. There was no violence until they came out in riot gear. They led us into a trap and ambushed us.”

According to Knight, the crowd began peacefully marching up Trade Street, a major road in Charlotte, chanting and shouting. “Police led us to an entry point to an underground parking garage by the Omni hotel and led a large number of us into a small entryway into the underground garage,” Knight said. “They started setting off tear gas immediately. People started to scatter, run away. That's when the shooting occurred, maybe 15 feet away from me.”

While Knight was unable to identify the individual who fired the shot, he expressed skepticism over the police department’s narrative. “We're being told it’s a protester who shot him,” he said from Little Rock AME Zion Church in Charlotte, where clergy had gathered to pray after the incident. “What we are demanding as faith leaders is a ballistics report and full disclosure on who did the shootings. This city deserves answers. We do not feel like the police department is telling us the truth right now.”

This point was reiterated by other clergy members. "While news reports contend the victim was shot by other protesters, several members of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, who were just 10 feet away from the victim when he was shot, questioned media accounts of the incident," reads a statement from the coalition, which represents 25 faith leaders.

Tamika Lewis, who was standing close to the individual who was shot, described the scene: “Folks were protesting in front of Omni, and police barricaded the entrance. Protesters were chanting and police began using tear gas and rubber bullets. Then we heard the clicking noises of guns and pistol sounds of rubber bullets, and then the guy was down on the floor.”

“This is not a civilian-on-civilian shooting,” Lewis argued.

Charlotte Observer reporters Ely Portillo, Joe Marusak and Katherine Peralta confirmed that, moments before the shooting, “police fired tear gas at protesters at the entrance to the Omni Hotel in uptown Charlotte. Loud booms sounded, and police said explosives had been used.”

New York Times journalists Richard Fausset and Alan Blinder noted, “City officials were quick to say the police had not fired any live rounds, but riot police personnel did fire repeated rounds of tear gas.”

Following news of the shooting, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory late Wednesday night declared a state of emergency, citing a request from the Charlotte police chief to mobilize the National Guard and state troopers.

As protests continue, Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra!, the magazine of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, told AlterNet that skepticism toward the police narrative on all counts is “definitely in order.”

“One of the major problems with reporting on police violence is the degree to which police statements are treated as the gold standard of information instead of being treated with the skepticism they deserve,” Naureckas said. “There's the fog of war that happens in these situations, as well as deliberate deception. We've seen over the course of our focus on these issues that police do lie, they do create evidence to match a narrative that exonerates them. There is no reason to assume that's definitely not happening, which is why you treat police statements as claims rather than as proof.”

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Sarah Lazare was a former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams. She coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.