Police officials relented amid increasing pressure Saturday and released two videos showing the shooting death of a black man by police five days ago that has sparked several nights of sometimes-violent protests.
The videos – one taken from an officer’s body camera and another from the dashboard camera of a police vehicle – show Keith Lamont Scott, 43, exiting his vehicle and falling to the ground. But they do not answer a crucial question about whether Scott was holding a gun as police have said and Scott’s family has denied.
The police department also offered new clues into how the encounter happened. Plainclothes officers were sitting in an unmarked car preparing to serve an arrest warrant against someone else when Scott pulled in beside them, the department said. The officers initially noticed that the 43-year-old was rolling a illegal substance in his car – and then saw him raise a gun, the police said. The officers left and returned in vests and equipment that identified them as cops, the police said.
That is when the encounter began, police say. “There was a crime that he had committed [possessing illegal substance] that caused the encounter, and then the gun exacerbated that encounter,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney at a news conference.
Putney’s office also released photos of a gun, an ankle holster. The gun was loaded and had Scott’s fingerprint’s and DNA, according to police.
Attorneys for Scott’s family said that the release of a photo on Saturday night was the first time they had been shown any evidence of Scott having a gun. They added that Scott’s widow is not convinced, based on the videos released, that the gun was in her husband’s hand or pointed at officers when he was shot.
“Our goal has, from the beginning, been from the beginning been to get the absolute unfiltered truth, and the only way to get that for the police is to release the videos,” said Ray Dotch, Scott’s brother-in-law. “Unfortunately we are left with far more questions than we have answers.”
The fatal shooting has turned Charlotte, considered by many the beacon of the “New South,” into the latest U.S. city to face tough questioning about the treatment of minorities by police. Hundreds of protesters have descended on the city’s downtown for the past five nights, prompting the state’s governor to call in the National Guard and the city’s mayor to put in place a midnight curfew.
The city was still healing from the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was shot by a white police officer in 2013 when Scott’s death reopened old wounds, protesters have said.
The chief focus of protesters had been the release of the police videos, but now even that doesn’t appear to be enough.
“What does illegal substances have to do with it? Why did he mention that?” asked Kayla Jefferson, 24, who was among hundreds of protesters listening to the news conference at a park near downtown. “They’re trying to make him look like a bad guy without releasing all of the information.”
Putney said he decided to make the video footage available after confirming that doing so would not hurt an investigation into the shooting being carried out by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. There are other videos and pieces of evidence, including statements by the police officers who witnessed the shooting, that will be released later, he said.
The videos show officers in police tactical vests taking up position behind the cab of their white flatbed truck. Scott then exits his own vehicle, which is reverse parked, with his back to the officers. It is not clear if Scott is holding anything in either hand.
As he approaches the end of the officers’ truck, he turns slightly to the right, and police open fire. Four gunshots are heard; Scott falls.
The release of the videos came one day after footage shot by Scott’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, showing her pleading with officers not to shoot her husband of 20 years, was made public. In the video, Rakeyia Scott can be heard yelling to the officers that her husband was unarmed. “Don’t shoot him,” she says.
Officers say Scott pointed a gun at them; Scott’s family has disputed that he was armed and that, if he was, that he raised the weapon.
That dispute is not settled by these videos, and it is unclear how long it will be before the State Bureau of Investigation completes its examinations.
Putney said that he has no plans to charge any of the officers involved in the fatal shooting with a crime but left open the possibility that charges could come from the state investigation.
Many stores in downtown Charlotte have been closed since violent demonstrations Tuesday evening, and even those that are open are seeing little business or closing early. Late Friday evening, Jane and Robert Clarksen sat on the patio of a Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant as hundreds of protesters filed by. The restaurant – one of the Clarksens’ favorites – is usually packed, but the couple, who have lived in Charlotte for more than 10 years, were among the only customers.
“It’s as if Charlotte isn’t Charlotte,” said Jane Clarkson, a retired chef. “I just don’t know what to think about it all.”
Hundreds of protesters have spent hours snaking their way through downtown Charlotte over the past few days, continuing to demonstrate hours past the city’s midnight curfew. Police officers on bicycles have watched close by, directing traffic away from major highways, and National Guard troops stood in front of major city markers, including Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Carolina Panthers.
Unlike the early days of protests, when demonstrators broke windows and police arrested dozens of people, marches over the past two evenings have remained relatively calm. Several local clergy members, who wore yellow ribbons on their arms to distinguish themselves, say that after the initial violence, they are focused on defusing any potential conflicts.
“It’s not enough for me to be in the pulpit,” said Byron Davis, leader of Liberation Ministries in Charlotte.