CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A Charlotte police officer whose fatal shooting of a black man outside an apartment complex touched off several nights of unrest in the city was justified in opening fire and will not face charges, a prosecutor announced Wednesday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray spent 40 minutes during a news conference meticulously outlining the evidence that led him and a team of 15 other prosecutors to determine Officer Brentley Vinson’s actions in killing Keith Lamont Scott were justified. He also released his report online.
Lawyers for Scott’s family say they still have questions and haven’t decided whether to file a lawsuit.
Scott’s family has said he wasn’t armed.
However, Murray displayed a nearby store’s surveillance video taken shortly before the incident, showing the outline of what appeared to be a holstered gun on Scott’s ankle. He said Scott’s DNA was found on a Colt .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun recovered at the scene. He shared a Facebook conversation from the man who said he sold the stolen gun to Scott and recognized him from TV coverage after the shooting and police radio traffic where officers talked about the gun before confronting Scott.
The prosecutor asked the public to review his findings before protesting again. Two nights of protests after the shooting led to looted stores near the scene and in downtown Charlotte, millions of dollars of damage and more than two dozen injuries to police officers and others, including one fatal shooting.
“The community should read the report. Digest the report. Please do not act viscerally on news snippets,” Murray said.
Immediately after the shooting, a video of Scott’s final moments recorded by his wife, Rakeyia, was posted on social media. In it, she could be heard shouting to police that her husband “doesn’t have a gun.” She pleaded with the officers not to shoot before a burst of gunfire could be heard.
Through their lawyers, Scott’s family said they were profoundly disappointed at the decision not to charge Vinson, but thanked Murray for meeting with them for an hour to answer their questions.
Their lawyers asked anyone upset to work on changing a system that lets officers shoot people without taking more steps to prevent confrontations from becoming deadly. They said they understood why prosecutors decided not to file charges.
“That does not mean that this officer’s killing of Keith Scott was right. All that means is that under the view of the DA’s office, it wasn’t criminal. And those are two completely different things,” Scott family attorney Justin Bamberg said.
Rakeyia Scott stood behind the lawyers with her sister, Rachel Dotch. They didn’t speak to reporters.
The shooting happened after plainclothes officers went to the complex on Sept. 20 looking for a suspect with an outstanding warrant when two undercover officers saw Scott — not the suspect they were looking for — inside a car with a gun and marijuana, Murray said.
They left to get backup, then returned to arrest Scott. Officers said Scott exited the SUV with a gun, ignored at least 10 orders to drop the weapon and appeared to be in a trance, Murray said.
Vinson told investigators that Scott locked his eyes on him, on each of the other officers and then on Vinson again.
“I felt like if I didn’t do anything right then, at that point it’s like he was going to shoot me or he’s going to shoot one of my buddies, and it was going to happen right now,” Vinson told investigators the next day.
Scott, 43, died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen and to the back near his shoulder. Murray said the bullets’ trajectory showed Scott was most likely shot first in the abdomen, and the shoulder wound happened after he hunched over.
Vinson, who is also black, had been with the department for two years at the time.
Scott spent nearly a decade in prison in Texas on an assault with a deadly weapon charge and had warrants out for his arrest from neighboring Gaston County the day he died, Murray said.
Scott’s wife had told reporters and investigators her husband had no gun. But in August, the couple had argued on text messages about the weapon, with Rakeyia Scott reminding her husband he could get 25 years in prison because he was a felon who wasn’t supposed to have one.
The case was among a series across the country since mid-2014 that spurred a national debate over race and policing.
A murder trial is underway in Charleston, South Carolina, for a since-fired white patrolman, Michael Slager, in the death last year of a black man, Walter Scott, who was shot while running from a traffic stop in April.
A Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a July traffic stop remains free as a manslaughter case against him proceeds.
Deaths of other unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement officers have inspired protests under the “Black Lives Matter” moniker.
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