CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Unanswered questions still surround the fatal police shooting of a black man by a black police officer in North Carolina despite a week of rallies and marches calling for wider investigations and more transparency by law enforcement.
Authorities have said officer Brentley Vinson, 26, shot Keith Lamont Scott, 43, after the man refused to drop a pistol as he exited a vehicle parked at an apartment complex where officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department were waiting to arrest someone else. They also have released two police recordings of the moments before and after the fatal gunfire, and Scott’s family has released a video taken by his wife, who was nearby.
But the explanations and images haven’t erased all the questions about the shooting. Here are some of them:
DID SCOTT OWN A GUN?
Police said Scott had a loaded gun that had been reported stolen previously, and they said testing showed the weapon found at the scene carried both his fingerprints and DNA. But Scott’s relatives and demonstrators dispute that.
On the video taken by Scott’s wife, the woman tells officers “He has no weapon” several times, even as officers yell at him, “Drop the gun.” Demonstrators have consistently repeated claims that Scott was unarmed when he was killed.
But Scott had a weapon a year ago, according to a court document filed by his wife. In asking a judge for a restraining order against her husband in October 2015, Rakeyia Scott wrote that officers should consider her husband a potential threat because he carried a 9mm gun. “He said he is a ‘killer’ and we should know that,” she wrote.
IF HE DID OWN A GUN, WHERE WAS IT?
After the shooting, police released an evidence photograph of a cocked, Colt .380-caliber handgun lying in a parking lot with the safety disengaged to illustrate their claim that Scott was armed when Vinson opened fire. The .380-caliber weapon is a form of a 9mm gun, a weapons expert said, and could be referred to as a 9mm, as Scott described in her complaint.
But it’s not clear if the gun mentioned in the restraining order is the same one police said they recovered.
The image is vital because Scott’s family said he had a book, not a gun. Several things appear to be on the ground around where Scott fell, but no gun is clearly evident. A video from an officer’s body camera at one point shows something on the ground near Scott’s feet that could be a gun. But it isn’t visible as the video continues, and it’s unclear what it is. Several things appear to be on the ground in the video taken by Scott’s wife, but it’s unclear what they are.
Did the gun get kicked away in the seconds after the shooting, or did an officer stand on it or pick it up perhaps? Police haven’t explained.
WHO WERE POLICE SEEKING WHEN THEY ENCOUNTERED SCOTT?
Police say two plainclothes officers were sitting inside an unmarked car waiting to serve an arrest warrant at the apartment complex when Scott pulled in beside them in a white sport-utility vehicle. Officers first saw him rolling what appeared to be a marijuana blunt and then saw him hold up a gun, prompting officers to order him out of the SUV seconds before the shooting, police have said.
Police have not said who they were attempting to arrest. Police Lt. David Robinson said the suspect remained at large and was wanted on a federal probation violation.
The suspect was not related to Scott, police have said.
WHY HAVEN’T MORE POLICE VIDEOS BEEN RELEASED?
Scott’s family and advocacy groups complain that authorities have made public only about three minutes of footage from two police cameras, one on a dashboard and the other from a police officer’s body, despite other officers being present.
The footage does not include body camera video from Vinson, who wasn’t wearing a body camera because he was in a special tactical unit.
The American Civil Liberties Union has questioned whether the department is violating its own body camera policy instituted in April 2015. The policy, according to the department’s site, states the cameras must be activated in situations including arrests and encounters with suspicious people. It doesn’t address whether tactical units must wear them.
A police attorney told a media coalition that much of the video of a fatal police shooting is too gruesome to release publicly. Media lawyer Jonathan Buchan said in an email to The Associated Press and other organizations Wednesday that he discussed the contents of the police videos with police attorney Judy Emken.
Buchan quoted Emken as saying that the only police body camera video of the fatal shooting of Scott lasts about 16 minutes. About two minutes worth of video has been released, including the shooting itself. Emken said the remaining 14 minutes is very bloody and includes the sounds of Scott groaning as he died, Buchan said. Police are refusing to release that portion because of its nature, and authorities didn’t show it to Scott’s family, he said.
Buchan said Emken told him that 52 officers responded to the scene in all and each had body cameras or dashboard cameras. All but one of the officers turned off their cameras as they arrived at the apartment complex where Scott was fatally shot. Emken said the one dashboard video and body camera video that have been released came from the same officer, Buchan said.