Under pressure, the Charlotte, North Carolina, police chief finally released both body and dashboard camera videos on Saturday of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. As previously stated by the chief, the videos are, in fact, inconclusive on a number of levels.
The videos appear to show Mr. Scott as he exits his vehicle, backing away with his hands at his sides. We see no threatening or erratic movements, though officers can be heard shouting to drop the gun.
The video contains two angles of the incident – both of which are brief in length. There was clearly nothing in his right hand. What is unclear is whether Mr. Scott was carrying a gun in his left hand. Mr. Scott is reportedly right-handed.
After being shot multiple times, he falls to ground, and you can hear him moaning as officers cuff him and immediately seek medical attention.
According to reporting by the New York Times, the police say that they recovered a loaded gun with Mr. Scott’s DNA on it. He was reportedly wearing an ankle holster but there is no information as to where the gun was found.
The police claim that the confrontation with Mr. Scott began because they noted he was rolling a marijuana cigarette inside his SUV and, according to them, they observed him hold up a gun.
“He absolutely was in possession of a handgun,” Chief Putney said. “There was no definitive visual evidence that he had a gun in his hand and that he pointed it at an officer. That I did not visually see in the video … When [my officers] see a weapon and they see the marijuana they say ‘uh oh, this is a threat to the public.’”
In a release, the police claim to have seen Mr. Scott hold a gun before the confrontation: “Mr. Scott then exited the vehicle with the gun and backed away from the vehicle while continuing to ignore officers’ repeated loud verbal commands to drop the gun. Officer Vinson perceived Mr. Scott’s actions and movements as an imminent physical threat to himself and the other officers. Officer Vinson fired his issued service weapon, striking Mr. Scott. Officers immediately rendered first aid and requested Medic to respond to the scene.”
Chief Putney told the media that officers are “absolutely not being charged” from his end, but that independent investigations are ongoing.
Mr. Scott’s wife released her video from her cell phone with the confrontation prior to the shooting. Ms. Scott can be heard telling officers that her husband has a brain injury and that he isn’t carrying a weapon.
Justin Bamberg, one of the family’s attorneys, said Saturday that the family stands by its belief that Mr. Scott was not armed and that he had not acted in a threatening manner.
“When I look at the dashcam footage, I don’t see anything there, in my opinion, that would lead to him losing his life,” Mr. Bamberg said.
The problem we have now is that we see both the strengths and limitations of body worn cameras. In Tulsa, the incident was clear – the individual shot was not only unarmed but had his hands up. The result is the officer there is being charged with manslaughter.
In Charlotte we have a much more ambiguous finding. The police absolutely had little choice but to release the video. The video is not definitive. There might be a gun in Mr. Scott’s left hand, but, if there is, it is at his side and he is not acting in a threatening way – of course we did not see the rest of the incident – which is important in understanding the assessment of the police.
The police claim they have recovered a gun with Mr. Scott’s DNA on it. But, even if they did, there are a lot of unanswered questions – such as where the gun was recovered and whether Mr. Scott had been holding it when he was shot.
Mr. Scott’s family, for their part, still believe that he was unarmed when he was shot.
The police have a problem here – people have been lied to and deceived so often they are not going to take the police at their word. In Tulsa, for instance, the police maintained that Terrence Crutcher was armed, but the video contradicted their account. Police also accepted the account of the Chicago police officers and of Officer Michael Slager in South Carolina – before video contradicted them.
Now you have a case where they likely did recover a gun, but the video is at best indefinitive as to whether that gun was held, and whether Mr. Scott was acting in a manner would get him killed. It is clear that the Charlotte Police Department is not going to come up with those answers, and that will leave things to the Department of Justice.
—David M. Greenwald reporting