Charlotte Police: Man killed by officers holding gun, not book

There are conflicting stories about what led up to a Charlotte police officer shooting and killing Keith Scott. Police say he was armed with a gun. Witnesses and family say he was armed with a book. Now, anger is filling the streets. USA TODAY NETWORK

CHARLOTTE — After a night of angry protests, smashed windows and trucks set ablaze, more protests as well as special church services were planned Wednesday evening in a community shaken by the police-involved shooting that left an African-American man dead.

The violence — in which 16 police officers were wounded and stores were looted — erupted Tuesday night, hours after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, 43, who police say was armed and ignored several commands to drop his weapon.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, at a news conference Wednesday, rejected claims Scott was holding a book, not a gun, and said the gun had been recovered by detectives. No book was found, Putney added.

“It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story’s a little bit different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” Putney said.

As the city tried to cope with the sudden outbreak of anger and violence, another protest gathering was planned at Marshall Park on Wednesday evening. Special church services were also called at a half dozen places of worship.

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce expressed its condolences to the Scott family, as well as to those injured in the protests, while calling on business owners to be prepared for any new violence. It said businesses should "keep everything as normal as possible," but also take care to remove or chain down all tables, chairs, signs or planters.

The shooting took place four days after a Tulsa police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man who was standing outside his vehicle. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called for calm in both cities and across the nation. Lynch said the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into the death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and was "assessing" Scott's death.

“These tragic incidents have once again left Americans with feelings of sorrow, anger and uncertainty,’’ Lynch said. “They have once again highlighted – in the most vivid and painful terms – the real divisions that still persist in this nation between law enforcement and communities of color.’’

Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement pledging support for Putney and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts in their efforts to "keep the community calm and to get this situation resolved."

In Charlotte, Putney said police dashcams recorded parts of the confrontation, and the videos were being reviewed. The African-American officer who shot Scott, identified as Brentley Vinson, was not wearing a body camera, Putney said.

The ACLU called on the police department to "promptly" release the videos "in the interest of transparency and accountability." The advocacy group also demanded an explanation for why Vinson was not wearing a body camera.

Putney said officers were searching for a suspect with an outstanding warrant Tuesday afternoon at The Village at College Downs when they observed a man — not the person they were looking for — inside a vehicle at the apartment complex.

Putney said the man, Scott, exited the vehicle with a gun as officers yelled at him to drop it. Scott ignored the command and was shot by a Vinson, a two-year veteran of the force, Putney said. Vinson was placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.

"It's a tragic event, and my heart goes out to the Scott family for their loss," Putney said.

Several residents at a condominium near the scene of the shooting said the neighborhood, which includes locals and University of North Carolina at Charlotte students, is quiet and safe.

Michelle Cooke, a resident, said she learned of the shooting when her 12-year-old daughter came home from school and asked about the police tape and helicopters.

“In this climate we’re living in, the job of law enforcement is to protect lives as well as it is to protect themselves. Unnecessary shootings should not take place,” she said. “If he did not point a gun, there is no reason to shoot him. This is why the issue of Black Lives Matter is important.”

“For non-marginalized groups, who have not faced oppression, it might be hard to understand why we protest and say that black lives do matter,” Cooke added.

Temako McCarthy, whose son LaReko Williams died in 2011 after he was tasered by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, arrived at the complex Wednesday afternoon to show solidarity with Scott’s family.

“If an officer is scared behind the trigger of a gun, that’s scarier than a person who is walking down the street,” McCarthy said. “They need to have an outside sector come in, instead of taking care of this internally.”

Steve Knight, a white pastor at Charlotte's Missiongathering Christian Church, told USA TODAY he arrived at the scene about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said he talked to members of Scott's family as well as neighbors. All said Scott routinely sat in his car reading, waiting for his son's school bus.

Knight, 41, said he questions Putney's version of events.

"I find it difficult to believe, the story that the police are telling," he said. "Until we see video from the scene, and we see a gun, I for one am personally not going to believe that story."

George Shears III, pastor at Greater Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, said the demonstration started out peaceful but "began to boil over very quickly."

By 11 p.m., some protesters were throwing rocks and bottles at police, who remained stoic, Shears said. He said he left when police began firing tear gas.

"That enraged the crowd," Shears, 34, said. "I didn't see any police cars burning, anything like that. I didn't expect that from the city. But people are angry and hurt and sometimes you just gotta let it out."

In the hours that followed, Putney said demonstrators, joined by "agitators," damaged at least two police cars, set fire to a trailer, looted a Walmart store and shut down part of Interstate 85. One arrest was made, he said.

"People are watching how we respond, how we react," Putney said. "I'm optimistic we will have positive outcomes, but it's time for the voiceless majority to stand up and be heard."

Nation of Islam representative B.J. Murphy, speaking later Wednesday, said the people of Charlotte were demanding justice. He called on "all black people to keep your money in your pocket. Let everybody feel the pain economically of what we are feeling physically when you kill us."

Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Maxwell reports for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. Contributing: Kevin Johnson in Washington


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