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Charlotte police won’t make shooting video public; chief says footage is not ‘definitive’

Authorities in Charlotte will release police video of the shooting of a black man "when there is a compelling reason." (Video: Reuters)

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CHARLOTTE — Hours after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) declared a state of emergency and the National Guard and state troopers moved in, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney resisted calls to release video footage of a police shooting that sparked intense protests in this city.

Family members of Keith Lamont Scott have asked to view video of his shooting and that authorities are trying to accommodate them, Putney said. Attorneys for the relatives said they planned to watch it later in the day.

One of the attorneys, Justin Bamberg, said during an afternoon news conference that Scott’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, witnessed her husband’s death.

“It’s my understanding that his wife saw him get shot and killed,” Bamberg said. “That’s something that she will never, ever forget.”

Putney suggested that his department has no imminent plans to release the video footage to the public, and the Scott family’s attorneys made no promises to reveal its contents once they had seen it.

“Transparency is in the eye of the beholder,” Putney told reporters. “If you think I’m saying we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”

Putney said his department would release the video only “when we believe it is a compelling reason,” but the footage — which, he noted, doesn’t definitively show Scott pointing a gun — probably would not do much to calm the city anyway.

“I can tell you this: There’s your truth, my truth and the truth,” Putney said. “Some people have already made up their minds.”

Charlotte officials spoke as the city tried to recover from a second night of demonstrations that left several businesses damaged and one man clinging to life.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts (D) noted that it had been “a difficult couple of days” for the city, adding: “This is not the Charlotte we know and love.”

Although city leaders said Charlotte was open for business, Uptown was more of a ghost town than bustling city center, with some businesses cleaning up and others closing shop.

Workers moved quickly to repair damage from the previous night’s protests and were seen mending windows at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a nearby bank building. Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, which is headquartered here, had told employees to stay home. During the lunch rush, restaurants and coffee shops had few customers.

“Today is dead,” said hot-dog vendor Kidane Engida. “It’s like a bank holiday: If the bankers are not working, there’s nobody.”

City officials stressed that the business district was safe and secure after a second spasm of overnight unrest.

On Wednesday, peaceful protests turned into chaos when demonstrators attempted to follow police in riot gear into a hotel lobby. Officers used tear gas, and then a reporter heard a gunshot and saw a man lying in the street near the hotel entrance. The man, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital with wounds that medics said were “life-threatening.” Officials announced on Twitter that the man had died, then later tweeted that he was on “life support.”

Putney said the man was in critical condition Thursday morning. Investigators are reviewing video to determine who shot the man, the chief said, noting that an allegation was made “that one of our officers was involved.”

Officials say a man was shot during the second night of demonstrations in Charlotte after police fatally shot a black man outside an apartment on Sept. 20. (Video: Cleve Wootson/The Washington Post, Photo: JASON MICZEK/Cleve Wootson/The Washington Post)

The protests stemmed from Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of Scott — putting Charlotte on a growing list of communities across the country that have erupted amid a growing debate on racial bias in policing.

Some protesters ignited small fires and shattered hotel windows. Businesses were damaged and looted. Nine civilians were injured, and two police officers suffered “minor” eye injuries and three were treated for “heat issues,” the chief said. There were 44 overnight arrests on charges such as failure to disperse, assault, and breaking and entering, Putney said. More arrests are likely after investigators review surveillance video, he said.

Officials weighed the possibility of implementing a curfew Thursday night — though the police chief noted at the morning news conference that “right now, we don’t see the need to shut the city down at a specific hour.”

McCrory, the governor, said National Guardsmen were mobilized to help protect buildings and structures, and that state troopers were deployed to control traffic and help local police do their jobs.

“As governor,” he said, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate any type of violence.”

Michael Smith, chief executive of the downtown development corporation Charlotte Center City Partners, said the influx of law enforcement personnel gave him “much greater confidence that we will respond the way we need to” after two nights of chaos.

But Corinne Mack, who heads the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, said the increased police presence could prove problematic.

“More police presence is never going to help,” she said. Instead, she said: “More transparency helps.”

Blame, rumor and blood run in Charlotte as protests surge. 1 critically wounded, 4 cops injured.

Law enforcement officials have fatally shot 706 people this year, 163 of them black men, according to a Washington Post database tracking fatal police shootings. A growing divide in public rhetoric over that toll has been fed by a summer of high-profile deaths captured on social media and deadly assaults on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The latest encounters — in Charlotte, and Tulsa, where protesters called for the arrest of the officer involved in the fatal shooting of a black man there Friday — come as the presidential race has tightened, and both candidates have offered positions and solutions.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch pleaded again Thursday for protesters to remain peaceful.

“For the second day in a row, protests in response to Mr. Scott’s death took place in Charlotte last night,” Lynch, a North Carolina native, said during a news conference. “And for the second day in a row, those protests were marred by violence — this time leaving one person on life support and several individuals injured — an awful reminder that violence often only begets violence.”

Lynch called for “those responsible for bringing violence to these demonstrations to stop,” adding, “you’re drowning out the voices of commitment and change and ushering in more tragedy and grief in our communities.”

The FBI and the Justice Department are monitoring the situation involving Scott’s death, Lynch said, but federal officials have not launched an investigation. McCrory said Thursday that the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is leading an independent probe into the shooting.

Charlotte police have insisted that Scott had a gun and was posing an “imminent deadly threat” when officers shot him outside an apartment complex near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Scott’s family, however, said he was unarmed when he was killed and was instead reading a book in his car while waiting for his child to get out of school — a detail that quickly went viral on social media and was seized upon by protesters here.

Putney said police recovered a gun and found no book at the scene.

The police chief said the officer who shot Scott was in plainclothes, wearing a vest with a police logo, and was accompanied by other officers in full uniform. The plainclothes officer wasn’t wearing a body camera, but the other officers were.

Charlotte mayor: ‘I understand the anger’

Whether authorities can defuse the anger on the streets could hinge on that body-camera footage. The shooting has thrust Charlotte to the forefront of a national debate about access to police body cameras.

During an occasionally testy exchange with reporters on Thursday, Putney was asked when the public could expect the release of video showing the fatal shooting.

“You shouldn’t expect it to be released,” he said, noting that he did not want to “jeopardize the investigation.”

Having watched the footage, Putney said, “the video does not give me absolute definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun. I did not see that in the videos that I’ve reviewed.”

Still, he said, “When taken in totality of other evidence, it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Mr. Scott.”

A new state law effective Oct. 1 forbids police agencies from making body-camera footage public without a court order.

“At a time when you’re seeing other states becoming more transparent, North Carolina is taking this tremendous step backward,” said Mike Meno, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. The violent protests and conflicting accounts in Charlotte prove “just how misguided this new law is,” Meno said, and show exactly why public access to such footage is crucial.

Fatal Force: 706 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016

In a Facebook Live video widely circulated before Tuesday’s protest, a woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter said officers used a stun gun on him, then shot him four times with their service weapons. She added that Scott was disabled.

“My daddy didn’t do nothing; they just pulled up undercover,” she said in the video. By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been taken down.

Hours later, Scott’s wife, Rakeyia, released a statement saying the family was “devastated.”

“Keith was a loving husband, father, brother and friend who will be deeply missed every day,” she wrote. “As a family, we respect the rights of those who wish to protest, but we ask that people protest peacefully. Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that do not belong to you in the name of protesting.”

The family, she said, had “more questions than answers about Keith’s death. Rest assured, we will work diligently to get answers to our questions as quickly as possible.”

Bamberg, one of the family’s attorneys, confirmed Thursday that Scott, who had been married for two decades and had seven children, had a disability due to injuries suffered in an accident. He said there were different accounts of the shooting, including some people who say Scott was holding a book and others who said his hands were empty.

Bamberg did not agree to release any information after viewing the video of Scott’s death, saying, “My priority is the greater good of this family.”

Authorities said the officer who shot Scott is black, and they identified him as Brentley Vinson, who has worked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force since July 2014. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

This city also was the scene of another high-profile police shooting, when officers killed Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old black man who had crashed his car in a residential neighborhood several miles from the complex where Scott died, in September 2013.

Officer Randall Kerrick fired 12 rounds at Ferrell, who was unarmed, striking him 10 times. Police said Ferrell ignored officers’ instructions.

Last year, the jury deadlocked during Kerrick’s trial. While most jurors voted to acquit the officer, four voted to convict him. After a judge declared a mistrial, the state said it would not seek another trial. Ferrell’s family and the city of Charlotte settled a lawsuit stemming from the shooting for a reported $2.25 million.

But anger from the 2013 shooting never went away, lurking beneath the surface until Tuesday night, when it exploded again into the open.

Jibril Hough, a local activist who organized protests during Kerrick’s trial, said the recent demonstrations stem from lingering frustrations over Ferrell’s shooting.

“What you’re seeing is people have been put in that situation for so long and they’re tired of talking,” he said. “They’re tired of talking and talking and candlelight vigils and dialogue and nothing getting done.”

Hough said he did not agree with the violent turn the protests have taken.

But, he said, there’s a “boiling point” — and some people in Charlotte have reached it.

Bever and Berman reported from Washington and Adam Rhew and Wesley Lowery from Charlotte. William Wan, Derek Hawkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report, which has been updated multiple times.