Keith Lamont Scott was struck at least three times by bullets fired by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, with at least one of the fatal shots striking him in the back, according to a private autopsy conducted for his family and obtained by The Washington Post.
“The cause of death is two, penetrating, indeterminate range gunshot wounds to the back and abdomen,” wrote Kim Collins, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy commissioned by Scott’s family. “The manner of death is homicide.”
Attorneys for Scott’s family say that, based on this autopsy and the available video evidence, they believe the shot that struck Scott’s back was likely the first to hit him.
The Sept. 20 shooting of Scott sparked nights of protests and, at times, violent riots in Charlotte, as residents reacted to conflicting accounts of what happened.
Scott’s family and residents in the neighborhood where he was killed have said he was waiting in his truck, in the spot where he picked up one of his children from the bus stop each day, and was not armed. Police have said that Scott was armed with a gun when he was shot.
Police have said that plainclothes officers encountered Scott while they were in the process of serving an arrest warrant on someone else. As they prepared to serve the warrant, police have said, those officers saw Scott rolling marijuana, and then saw his weapon.
Scott “got out of the car and they could see the gun’s holster and that’s when they changed their clothes and confronted him,” said a former law enforcement official familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing case.
Several officers then confronted Scott, demanding he “drop the gun.” Video shows officers, guns drawn, surrounding his truck and screaming at Scott, who then gets out of the vehicle. Seconds later, four gunshots can be heard and Scott falls to the ground.
As of earlier this month, the warrant that Brentley Vinson, the officer who fatally shot Scott, and the other officers were originally in Scott’s neighborhood to serve, which was for a property crime, still had not been served and the wanted man remained, according to the official.
Local and state officials continue to probe the shooting, but Police Chief Kerr Putney has said that he does not believe Vinson will be charged with a crime. Officers are rarely charged with crimes following on-duty police shootings — a Washington Post analysis of fatal police shootings found just 54 cases of officers being charged out of what is believed to be close to 10,000 fatal police shootings nationally between 2005 and 2014.
Beyond any possible criminal charges, it remains to be seen if Vinson or any of the other officers involved will face discipline for tactical decisions made during their interaction with Scott as well as Vinson’s decision to use force.
Department officials are focusing specifically on Vinson’s positioning, and whether he had given himself proper cover for a situation in which he was knowingly approaching someone believed to be armed, the official said.
The department’s policy on the use of deadly force, as of May 2016, stipulates that officers may use deadly force when “reasonably necessary to defend him or herself or another person from what the officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.”
Three of the officers involved in the shooting have given statements in which they say the gun was in Scott’s hand when he was shot, the official said.
Police have released dash and body camera footage of the shooting, but neither video clearly shows what, if anything, Scott had in his hand when the fatal shots were fired. The department has also said it recovered a stolen gun at the scene, and have distributed photos of the gun as well as an ankle holster that Scott appears, in the video, to be wearing at the time of the shooting.
“Was there a gun in his ankle holster? Was there a gun in his hand?” said Charles Monnett, one of the attorneys for the Scott family. “It’s pretty clear that Keith never discharged a firearm and I think it’s pretty clear from the video that he never pointed any firearm at an officer.”
The private autopsy does not include a toxicology report, which was conducted by county medical examiners who originally examined Scott’s body.
Citing the active investigation, county officials have declined to release their autopsy and toxicology analysis of Scott to both the press and his family, referring inquires to the police department. The inability to get that information, attorneys said, was why Scott’s family sought an independent autopsy. A spokeswoman for the police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“It’s a little frustrating, in this age when we keep talking about transparency,” said Monnett, who noted the delay in information from the medical examiner’s office caused the family to have to delay Scott’s funeral, which had to be pushed back so they could conduct the second autopsy.
“Almost 20 days later, he’s still not buried,” Monnett said, who said that a new funeral has been scheduled for this upcoming weekend. “The family needs the closure of a funeral.”
This post has been updated to reflect that Scott’s autopsy concluded he had four gunshot wounds, but were the result of three gunshots, not four.