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Many Questions Remain After Putney Releases Police Shooting Videos

kerr putney
Charlotte Observer
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney during Saturday's press conference.

Throughout the week, pressure had been mounting on CMPD to release video of the fatal shooting Keith Scott. Now, there’s a new call that was heard Saturday night in non-violent protests uptown: Release all the video.

Early Saturday evening, CMPD released dashcam and body camera footage of the shooting. The footage included moments immediately before and after the shooting - and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

The announcement that the videos would be forthcoming was made late Saturday afternoon in a press conference that was different from others in the week.

No mayor, city council or other elected officials. Just CMPD Chief Kerr Putney, the podium and a whole lot of reporters. Four days after the shooting, Putney said it was time to release the videos.

"After having a conversation with the State Bureau of Investigation, the lead agency of the investigation at this point, I've decided we're at a stage where I can release additional information without adversely impacting their investigation."

And no, he said, it didn't have to do with public pressure or the release of cell phone video taken by Keith Scott's widow. Still, Putney warned not to expect too much. 

"The footage itself will not create in anyone's mind absolute certainty as to what this case represents and what the outcome should be."

But along with a case update and photos of evidence recovered at the scene, he called it the most complete piece of the puzzle the department could offer without trying the case in public. 

Putney gave details that led up to the shooting.

Two plain-clothes officers were preparing to serve an arrest warrant. They were sitting in an unmarked police vehicle when they noticed a man in an SUV next to them rolling what they believed to be a marijuana blunt. That man was Keith Scott.  

"That was the first thing they saw, but that was not the priority, they were still focused on apprehending the suspect."

Then, officer Brentley Vinson saw Scott hold a gun up. 

"When they see the weapon and they see the marijuana, they say, 'Uh oh.’ This is a safety issue for us and the public. We need to address this before serving the warrant."

The officers left the area and put on vests that identified them as police officers. When they returned they again saw Scott with a gun.

They gave “loud and repeated verbal commands,” Putney said, to drop the gun while he was still in his vehicle. Scott refused to do so. Then, a police SUV pulls up. That's when the dash-cam and body camera videos start.

You see a uniformed officer running from the patrol vehicle, toward a plain-clothes officer pointing a gun at Scott's SUV. You hear an officer yelling to drop the gun, several times. The body cam on the uniformed officer shows him running around Scott's SUV and trying to break a passenger-side window with a baton.

At that point, the dash-cam video shows Scott getting out of the SUV as an officer continues to order him to drop the gun. Scott’s body isn't rigid or at attention. He almost looks dazed. His arms are by his side and you see something in his hand, but it's not clear what. He takes a few steps back and then you hear four shots.  

Police say the shots came from officer Vinson. But you can't see him in the videos, until after Scott is down. 

You hear Scott moaning and his wife yelling in the background, “He better not be dead.” And then you see officers attending to Scott.

CMPD’s Evidence

Throughout the week, many have expressed doubts that Scott had a gun. CMPD tried to address those accusations in releasing the videos. The department included photos of a small .380 caliber handgun, an ankle holster, and a marijuana blunt they said belonged to Scott.  All were recovered at the scene. CMPD also said a lab analysis of the gun has Scott's DNA and fingerprints. The gun was loaded.

"Still a lot of questions. I don't see the clarity that I think many people are looking for," says Darell Stephens, the director of Major Cities Chiefs Association and a former CMPD chief. "Whether it answers something for me isn't the issue...it's what does it answer for the public."

Including the family of Keith Scott. His brother-in-law Ray Dotch spoke at a press conference after the release of the videos.

"What we know and what you should know about him is that he's an American citizen that deserves better," Dotch said.

An attorney representing the family, Charles Monnett, noted that Scott's wife is heard yelling at officers before the shooting that he had a traumatic brain injury.

"Why didn't they get his wife in and get her assistance to de-escalate the situation. We hear that's something that supposed to be emphasized across the country.  De-escalate don't escalate. But that did not happen here."

Putney says officer "were reacting to what they saw and they have a duty to do so. In the encounter, they perceive an imminent lethal threat by a handgun and they react to that."

The State Bureau of Investigation will now determine whether Officer Brentley Vinson was legally justified to shoot Scott. Meanwhile, not all the video footage has been released. Putney says he's only released the footage relevant to the shooting.  The state and local chapters of the NAACP chapters aren't so sure. They've call on CMPD to release all the video.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.