CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The grieving relatives of a man who was killed by the police here watched videos Thursday of the fatal shooting, a wrenching experience they said revealed no hint of aggression in him and left them convinced that the videos should be made public.
But the city’s police chief, who had arranged for a private viewing by the family, held fast to his decision not to release the recordings.
The wife and other relatives of the man, Keith L. Scott, watched his killing from two angles, recorded Tuesday by police dashboard and body cameras, and “it was incredibly difficult,” a family lawyer, Justin Bamberg, said in a statement.
He said they had come away with more questions than answers and a different interpretation from the account offered by the police, who have said that Scott, 43, got out of his car brandishing a gun.
“When told by police to exit his vehicle, Mr. Scott did so in a very calm, nonaggressive manner,” Bamberg said. “While police did give him several commands, he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time.”
When an officer opened fire, he added, “Mr. Scott’s hands were by his side, and he was slowly walking backwards.”
On one vital point, the family agreed with a statement by Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police: “It is impossible to discern from the videos what, if anything, Mr. Scott is holding in his hands.”
Earlier in the day, Putney said, “The video does not give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun,” adding that he could not see Scott’s hands. But the chief, speaking at a news conference, said eyewitness accounts and other evidence suggested Scott was holding a pistol at the time he was shot, and that a weapon had been found at the scene.
Scott was black — as is the officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson — and his death added to a long list of killings of black men at the hands of law enforcement that had rocked cities and spurred protests around the country, bolstering claims of racial bias in policing.
On Thursday, a white officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting an unarmed black man last week — a case in which startling police video was released within days of the encounter.
Scott’s death touched off violence in Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. As hundreds of National Guard troops and state police officers fanned out across the city Thursday, Putney brushed aside demands by activists, community leaders and the news media to make the footage public.
“We release it when we believe there is a compelling reason,” he said.
Hours before Scott’s relatives watched the videos, Bamberg said they had not accepted anything the police had said as fact.
“We don’t know what’s on the video; we know what law enforcement says is on the video," Bamberg said. “I haven’t seen any evidence, none of you all have seen any evidence, that a gun was there.”
Scott’s family had been scheduled to hold its first news conference late Thursday afternoon but was too distraught, Bamberg said.
“It’s my understanding that his wife saw him get shot and killed, and that’s something she will never, ever forget," he said.
Bamberg said earlier in the day that Scott’s relatives were uncertain whether the videos should be released to the public. But some black leaders and protesters showed no such hesitation.
“There must be transparency, and the video must be released,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, the president of the North Carolina NAACP.
He said the protesters who had taken to the streets here by the hundreds since Scott’s death were “rising up against systems of injustice that protect officers who kill.”
“It’s about saying we are against bad police, because bad police make it bad for good police,” Barber said.
In a day of rapid developments and rolling news conferences, local, state and federal officials called for calm. Protests had escalated the previous night, with some people smashing windows and storefronts, and the police used tear gas to disperse crowds and made 44 arrests. Nine civilians were injured, two officers had minor eye injuries, and three officers had heat exhaustion.
When one demonstrator was shot in the head Wednesday night and then carried into a hotel lobby by bystanders, Putney said, the police had to use an armored vehicle to retrieve him from the crowd because emergency medical personnel could not approach safely.
It was not clear who had fired the shot; the police described the shooting as “civilian on civilian” violence, but some protesters accused the police of opening fire. City officials said Thursday evening that the victim had died.
At 12:30 a.m. Thursday, local officials declared a state of emergency, calling for help from state forces, who deployed during the day in a show of strength throughout the city. Gov. Pat McCrory said he started mobilizing the National Guard early Wednesday in anticipation of that request, but he refused to second-guess Chief Putney and Mayor Jennifer Roberts for not asking for help sooner.
The state Bureau of Investigation began an investigation of the case, the governor said, and critics of the police asked for the FBI to step in. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the Justice Department and the FBI were monitoring events and offering help to local officials.
“I know that the events of recent days are painfully unclear and call out for answers,” Lynch said. “But I also know that the answer will not be found in the violence of recent days.”
Protests began Tuesday night after Vinson shot Scott while the police were serving a warrant on someone else. Starkly different accounts have emerged about what happened. The police say Scott was holding a gun before he was shot; friends and family say it was a book. Though the videos do not offer definitive proof on their own, they support the official version of events, Putney said.
“When taking in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth that we gave about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Scott,” he said. He added that the department’s practice was not to release video to the public, to protect the integrity of investigations.
Demonstrators and black community leaders said the outrage was not just about what had happened to Scott, but was fueled by a much broader context. “We need folks to understand there is a direct connection between the rioting and the creation of two separate groups based on class and race for decades,” said Justin Perry, an addiction counselor who is black and took part in the protest.
At a midday news conference, African-American community leaders and clergy members defended the protests as largely peaceful, and local and state government leaders agreed.
Members of the group also called for the firing of the officers whose body cameras were not active during the encounter and expressed doubt over the certainty with which the authorities described both the fatal shooting Tuesday and the shooting Wednesday night.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus pressed the Justice Department to do more by starting a thorough investigation into recent police shootings that had led to nationwide protests. Lawmakers from the 45-member group marched from the Capitol to the Justice Department to deliver a letter to Lynch, reinforcing the significance of their concerns.
Both Putney and Roberts sought to reassure residents that the city was prepared to avert another night of violence. Roberts sought to assure residents that the city was safe.
“Our transit system is running; our businesses are open; our center city is here to welcome you,” she said Thursday morning.
Still, several large businesses encouraged employees to stay home after the chaos.
Wells Fargo told approximately 12,000 employees that they were not expected to report to work in Charlotte’s Uptown neighborhood. Those unable to work remotely would be paid regardless, a spokesman said. Ally, the financial services company, closed two offices in Charlotte, affecting 900 employees. Duke Energy asked 500 employees and contractors to work remotely, and Fifth Third Bank asked the same of its employees.