Keith Lamont Scott Shooting, One Week Later
One week ago on September 20, CMPD officer Brentley Vinson shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott. WFAE’s David Boraks and Tom Bullock join All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey to talk us through what we know and still don’t know about the case.
Over the last seven days Charlotte has seen protests, sometimes violent, a video released by Scott’s wife, taken during the incident and a partial release of body camera and dash cam footage recorded by police.
Both the CMPD and State Bureau of Investigation have launched investigations into the incident. And, drip by drip, we’re learning more about Mr. Scott, and the response of police at the scene.
MARK: Tom let’s start with you. The CMPD has said from the beginning Keith Scott was holding a handgun. His family has said from the beginning he was not. Do we have any clarity on this key point yet?
TOM: There is still no definitive proof or disproof about whether or not Keith Scott had a gun. The video footage recorded by both Keith Scott’s widow and the CMPD show officers repeatedly calling for Scott to drop the gun before shots were fired.
And there’s this moment caught by a police body cam. It seems to show the officers referring to a gun in Scott’s hand.
"Legacy…it’s gripped in his hand, it’s gripped in his hand," say in officer.
TOM: Still Mark, it’s important to note there is no footage we’ve seen that clearly shows Scott had a gun in his hand – or any other items for that matter.
CMPD has released photos of an ankle holster and a handgun they say they recovered at the scene. They say it has his blood and fingerprints on it.
MARK: And there is an update on the gun the CMPD says Keith Scott had?
TOM: Yes. If a gun has an intact serial number it can be traced. CMPD tells WFAE that the gun they recovered was stolen by another person. And after the Scott shooting the CMPD interviewed the person who stole the gun and that person told police he sold it to Mr. Scott.
Those are all the details we have on this – we don’t know when or where the gun was stolen – or by whom.
MARK: David, I want to ask you about another update to the story – Keith Scott’s past involving two restraining orders.
DAVID – In both his wife accused him of assaulting her and her children.
- One in April 2004 – when they were living off Albemarle Road in east Charlotte. She said he stabbed her in the back several times, cutting her ear and almost puncturing her lung. Ten days later she asked for the order to be withdrawn.
- Then a year ago - October 2015. They were living in Gastonia. Rakeyia Scott says her husband threatened her with a gun and hit her 8-year-old child. In the restraining order, she says he owned a 9 mm black pistol.
And there are other court records that show Scott had brushes with the law over the years – apart from what happened at home. Everything from assault to check fraud.
MARK: Numerous posts on social media say bringing up Keith Scott’s past is akin to re-victimizing the victim.
DAVID: It’s a valid point, Mark.
It’s worth asking - what does this have to do with last Tuesday's shooting? From a legal standpoint, if the police shooting were ever to come up in court, the restraining orders may not come into play. They're not directly relevant to the moment of the shooting and they don't answer the question of why Vinson fired at Scott.
But his wife’s statement that he owned a gun in the past does challenge some of what we heard last week.
Remember, the family's lawyers held a press conference last Thursday – the day they saw the police video. Lawyer Justin Bamberg said then Scott didn't own a gun.
The 2015 restraining order appears to be evidence that Scott had a handgun in the past.
TOM: And that may have played a direct role in this. It’s common for police to run the license plates of suspect vehicles. That would pull up this kind of information. If they did in this case that may help explain why police felt Scott was a danger. We’ve asked the CMPD if they ran the tags on the vehicle Scott was in before the shooting – they have not yet answered that question.
Still, the most important thing here is, was Scott breaking the law and a threat to police at the time of the shooting? And we don’t have definitive proof or disproof of this.
DAVID: One of the questions we're still trying to answer is whether police knew who Scott was when they approached him. And one other thought about all this evidence and all these questions: In the past, in a case like this, all these details would have trickled out in court - months or years after the incident. But these days we have video - from the police and citizens - that makes these cases more public than ever. We also have more information because of open records laws give us more access. So instead of these details coming out in a careful stream from prosecutors, so a judge or jury can decide the case, they're out in public.
MARK: What else have we learned about Scott?
DAVID: Scott was the father of seven children, and his family says he was waiting to pick one of those kids up at the bus stop.
His family said he liked to read – and in fact they said after the shooting he was holding a book, not a gun.
It’s not clear if he had a job. When the family lived in Gastonia, he worked as a security guard at Eastridge Mall.
He also was disabled. In the video shot by his widow, she yells to the police that he has “TBI” – that’s a traumatic brain injury. His lawyers said last week he was seriously injured in a “bad accident” a year ago.
MARK: Last year the Charlotte City Council approved $7 million to equip all patrol officers with body cameras. This is the first high profile case since that decision. Tom you’ve been following this aspect of the story, How were they used in this incident?
TOM: The CMPD has only released footage from one body camera. There were five police officers on the scene during the shooting. Four plain clothes and one uniformed officer. And by examining the footage we have it's clear the uniformed officer is wearing the body camera. His footage begins with 30 seconds of video – but no audio.
This is because the cameras record a 30 second loop of video, without audio, until the unit is turned on by the officer. The officer in this case did not turn on the body camera until after the shots were fired. And even then he seems unsure as to whether the camera is on. There’s a moment when the uniformed officer is helping to handcuff Scott, after he’d been shot, and you can hear a plain clothed officer ask him “if he was on.” He responds, "I don’t know."
Officers are supposed to turn on their cameras as soon as they arrive to an incident such as this. Here protocol was not followed.
But the camera footage may answer an important question. There’s a moment where officer Brentley Vinson, who shot Scott, and a plain clothed officer in a red t-shirt seem to be dropping black items on the ground. There’s a lot of speculation as to what these items are. They may be latex gloves.
The uniformed officer is the first to start medical care on Scott. And he says this:
"Check the back of my truck. You good? I’m good. Get some gloves, we need to hold the wound."
After saying, “get some gloves” you can see Vinson putting on what appear to be gloves, then dropping them to the ground. The officer in the red shirt then picks them up. Again – the video is not crystal clear, but this seems to be what happened.
MARK: This whole encounter – and the shooting – seems to take place in relatively close quarters. Tom, do we know why officers did not use something less lethal, like a TASER or pepper spray on Scott?
TOM: There were five officers on the scene, four in plain clothes, one in uniform. The officer who fired the shot was one of the plain clothes cops. The CMPD tells us plain clothed officers normally do not go out with a TASER, pepper spray or a similar less than lethal device. So that seems like it wasn’t an option for four of the officers.
Some uniformed officers do go equipped with a TASER. But we don’t know if the officer in this case had a TASER or pepper spray. And he also had his gun drawn just before and during the shooting.