The officer who fatally shot a Charlotte man in September will not be charged for the shooting, prosecutors said Wednesday, concluding that the man was armed and that the officer acted lawfully during the encounter.
“It’s a justified shooting based on the totality of the circumstances,” R. Andrew Murray, district attorney for Mecklenburg County, said during a news conference.
The shooting of Keith Lamont Scott on Sept. 20 set off days of heated, sometimes violent protests in Charlotte, some of the most intense demonstrations seen nationwide amid an increased focus on how police use deadly force.
Murray said that the recommendation from 15 career prosecutors in this case was unanimous. He said that he informed Scott’s family of the decision earlier Wednesday.
“It was a difficult decision,” Murray said. “However, the family was extremely gracious.”
Scott’s family said they were “profoundly disappointed” by the announcement. They also thanked Murray and investigators for sharing information about how the probe unfolded and concluded.
Charles Monnett, an attorney for the family, suggested during a news conference that Scott’s relatives may still seek a civil lawsuit against the police department or the city for the shooting, adding: “We look forward to someday obtaining justice for Keith and his family.”
Police have said that Scott raised a gun at officers before Brentley Vinson, a black plainclothes officer in Charlotte, fired the fatal shots.
Scott’s family has disputed that the 43-year-old pointed a gun at the officer and whether he had a gun. After the shooting, police released photos of a gun and ankle holster, and authorities said that gun was loaded and had Scott’s fingerprints and DNA.
During the news conference, Murray pored over details from the day of the shooting, ultimately saying he had no doubt that Scott had a gun during the encounter. He also said the gun — a Colt. 380 semi-automatic — was loaded, the safety was off and a bullet was in the chamber.
“There’s been some speculation in the community regarding whether Mr. Scott was armed,” Murray said. “All of the credible and available evidence suggests that he was, in fact, armed.”
In a letter to Bob Schurmeier, head of the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation, and Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force, Murray said that evidence included DNA on the gun’s grip and slide, officers discussing seeing the gun on the radio before the shooting and a person admitting they illegally sold Scott the same gun found at the shooting scene.
Police had previously released a photo of a “blunt” from the scene. Authorities said officers in an unmarked car in the apartment complex where the shooting occurred were conducting surveillance in an unrelated case when they saw Scott, in his own car, rolling the blunt with marijuana.
Murray said Wednesday that while police said they were not going to act on the marijuana, they decided to move on Scott when they saw him raise a gun while sitting in his car.
Vinson was not wearing a recording device at the time of the shooting, police said, but the department released other videos from the scene after intense pressure. Murray said Wednesday that none of the videos showed Scott with the gun in his hand when he got out of his car, something all four officers at the scene reported seeing.
However, Murray said that videos did appear to show that Scott’s pant leg was pulled up above where police said they recovered the ankle holster. During the briefing, Murray also showed surveillance video footage from the same day showing a bulge in Scott’s ankle that he said was consistent with a holster and a gun.
In a recording of the shooting taken by Scott’s wife, Rakeyia, she can be heard yelling at the officers that her husband was unarmed while pleading with them not to fire.
“Don’t shoot him,” she says in the video. “Don’t shoot him. He has no weapon. He has no weapon. Don’t shoot him.”
In his report on the shooting, Murray said that officers called on Scott to drop his gun 10 times before he got out of his SUV and continued saying it after he was out of the car.
Vinson told authorities that he felt Scott was “an imminent threat” to him and the other officers. During an interview with a Charlotte detective conducted a day after the shooting, Vinson said he fired because Scott was looking at the officers like he was “trying to decide who he wanted to shoot first.”
“I felt like if I didn’t do anything right then at that point it’s like he…he was gonna shoot me or he’s gonna shoot one a my buddies, um, and it was gonna happen right now,” Vinson said during the interview, according to a transcript released by Murray’s office.
Footage from a body camera worn by another officer at the scene captured part of the encounter, but it lacked audio because the officer did not activate it until after the shooting. Investigators and the public were therefore unable to learn some key details about what happened before the shots were fired.
An autopsy showed that Scott had four gunshot wounds, including one to his back.
According to Murray, investigators spoke to a number of people who said they saw the shooting, but some of them gave conflicting statements. Three of these people had said on social media or told reporters they thought Scott was unarmed, but investigators determined they never saw the shooting, Murray said.
The State Bureau of Investigation put 63 agents on this probe, and they spend more than 2,300 hours on the case, Murray said.
While initial accounts said that Scott was reading a book when he encountered police, state investigators found no evidence he had a book with him when he was shot.
Scott’s family, as well as attorneys representing them, called on anyone who protests the decision to do so peacefully.
“While we understand that many in the Charlotte area share our frustration and pain, we ask that everyone work together to fix the system that allowed this tragedy to happen in the first place,” the Scott family said in a statement released through their attorneys. “All our family wanted was justice and for these members of law enforcement to understand that what they did was wrong.”
By 7 p.m. Wednesday, a small group of protesters wearing ponchos gathered in the rain outside the Charlotte police headquarters. The crowd gradually grew to a few dozen demonstrators over the next two hours as the rain receded. The protesters marched through downtown to a spot where a man, Justin Carr, was fatally shot during a previous protest in September in the days after Scott’s killing. Police said three people were arrested for obstructing traffic. A suspect was arrested, who according to officials confessed to the Carr killing, but the demonstrators Wednesday continued to blame police for his death.
“We recognize that for some members of our community, this news will be met with different reactions,” the city of Charlotte said in a statement Wednesday. “No matter where you stand on the issue, the events surrounding the Scott shooting have forever changed our community, and we intend to learn from and build a stronger Charlotte because of it.”
The unrest set off by Scott’s death left the city reeling and struggling to return to normal. Some small protests continued after the demonstrations that garnered national media coverage, while downtown streets remained unsettled in the aftermath of peaceful protests that had descended into chaos.
“The lives of both the Scott and Vinson families have been changed forever,” the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said in a statement Wednesday. “One of our officers’ had to make the difficult but split second decision to use their service weapon and as a result a life was lost. In these circumstances, it is important that we remain focused on our sworn duty and unwavering commitment to protecting our community along with serving it.”
Vinson was placed on administrative leave after the shooting. A police spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding his status after Murray’s announcement.
Scott is one of 875 people fatally shot by police officers so far this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings.
Charges against officers who fatally shoot people are rare, but this number has increased recently after waves of protests prompted by high-profile deaths involving police in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland and Baton Rouge.
Earlier this month, prosecutors in Minnesota said they were charging an officer with manslaughter for fatally shooting man during a July encounter partially streamed on Facebook. In September, while Charlotte was still roiled by protests, a Tulsa police officer was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing an unarmed black man four days before Scott was killed.
Lisa Rab in Charlotte contributed to this article, which has been updated through the day.