In September, a police officer from North Carolina fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott. The officer, who is black, shot Scott, who is also black, in a parking lot as officers were preparing to serve an arrest warrant against someone else. The officer, Brentley Vinson, says he saw Scott rolling a joint and holding a gun, and fired at him out of concern for public safety.
The incident made national news once Scott’s wife shared the cell phone video that she took that captured the moments just before her husband’s death. Rakeyia Scott was pleading with officers not to shoot her husband. The public’s response led to days of violent protests.
On Wednesday, North Carolina prosecutors announced the officer acted lawfully and would not face any charges. Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray said at a news conference, “It is my opinion that Officer Vinson acted lawfully when he shot Mr. Scott. He acted lawfully.” There were 15 prosecutors who made the unanimous decision, which was based on the legal premise of what justifies the use of deadly force for self-defense.
Prosecutors believe that Vinson had to make a split-second decision, in which he ultimately fired four shots at Scott after Scott drew his weapon and didn’t obey repeated commands by the officers to “drop it”, staring at them with a “trance-like look” in his eyes. The prosecutor said he met with Scott’s family prior to making his announcement.
He said, “As you can imagine, it was a difficult discussion. However, the family was extremely gracious. No one and I mean no one, should ever experience, let alone witness, the violent death of a loved one.” However, in a statement, the Scott family said they were “profoundly disappointed” with the decision.
The Scott family released this statement, “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.” An attorney for the Scotts, Justin Bamberg, called it a “bittersweet day.” Bamberg said, “We’ve been saying from the very beginning that we want to know the facts, we want certain questions answered. And we did get some of those answers today. But we’re going to continue to look into this matter.”
Prosecutors in this case insist that Scott was armed but Scott’s wife insists he’s not. This was an ongoing conflict throughout the case. “He doesn’t have a gun. He has a TBI [traumatic brain injury],” she says. “He’s not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine.” Bamberg said that she was not aware of her husband having a gun at the time.
Those who joined in the protests wanted the police to release video showing that Scott had a gun. Vinson did not have a body cam on during the incident but three other plainclothes officers who were at the scene did. Finally, video from the body cams and dash cams were released but unfortunately, they did not shed light on the truth about if Scott was armed.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said found a gun at the scene that had Scott’s DNA and fingerprints on it, which was how they concluded the officer would not be charged. There is also video from reporters that show Scott going into a nearby convenience store minutes before his death, which showed Scott with a gun and holster.
As to not spark anymore violent protests, Putney said, “We took a lot of painstaking effort to make certain that there was no personal bias in the review. Public opinion did not factor in our determination. I’d like the community to take a collective pause.”