Charlotte leaders seek calm amid protests over fatal police shooting of black man

Protestors+hold+up+their+arms+and+look+on+as+CMPD+officers+form+a+ling+on+Harris+Blvd.+on+Wednesday+morning%2C+Sept.+21%2C+2016+in+Charlotte%2C+N.C.+%28Jeff+Siner%2FCharlotte+Observer%2FTNS%29
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Charlotte leaders seek calm amid protests over fatal police shooting of black man

Protestors hold up their arms and look on as CMPD officers form a ling on Harris Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

Protestors hold up their arms and look on as CMPD officers form a ling on Harris Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

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Protestors hold up their arms and look on as CMPD officers form a ling on Harris Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

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Protestors hold up their arms and look on as CMPD officers form a ling on Harris Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

By Adam Bell, Mark Price and Katherine Peralta | The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte, N.C., city leaders appealed for calm Wednesday and promised a thorough investigation of Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of a black man that triggered a night of violent protests.

Authorities said they were reviewing video from body cams and dash cams from the deadly confrontation. The dead man was Keith Lamont Scott, 43; the officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson, is also black. Sixteen Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers suffered minor injuries during the chaotic night.

The incident quickly drew national attention in the wake of police shootings of black men, which has led to protests from Ferguson, Mo., to Tulsa, Okla., and spawned the Black Lives Matter movement.

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“This is a very difficult situation for everyone involved,” Mayor Jennifer Roberts said at a Wednesday news conference. She expressed the city’s condolences to Scott’s family and concern for the injured officers.

The chain of events began around 4 p.m. Tuesday, when police began searching in the University City area for someone who had an outstanding warrant at The Village at College Downs complex on Old Concord Road, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said.

Locator map of Charlotte, N. Carolina where protest broke out over police shooting.

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Locator map of Charlotte, N. Carolina where protest broke out over police shooting.

Officers saw Scott in his car, he got out, went back in and came out again, this time holding a handgun, Putney said. Officers yelled at Scott to drop the weapon and within seconds Scott was shot. Authorities said Scott posed an imminent threat of danger.

A woman who said she is Scott’s daughter said on a live-streamed video that Scott was unarmed, sitting in his car reading a book and waiting for a school bus to drop off his son. Her video, viewed more than half a million times, elevated the incident to a national stage within hours.

Putney said no book was found at the scene. He said he did not know whether the gun found near Scott was loaded.

Some civil rights activists and neighbors questioned the police account of the shooting Wednesday, saying Scott was disabled from an accident and was waiting for his son’s school bus. Activists demanded answers from police and called on protesters to be peaceful.

The chief said he wanted to dispel misinformation and get as many facts out to the public as he could in the midst of the ongoing investigations.

“People are watching how we respond, how we react,” Putney said. “I’m optimistic that the results of our actions will be positive … but it’s time for the voices of the majority to stand up and be heard. It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the stories will be different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media.”

Scott’s mother, Vernita Walker of Charleston, said her son had seven children.

“He was a family man…And he was a likeable person. And he loved his wife and his children.” She said she had just talked with her son on the phone that day.

Putney said officers began to encounter protesters at around 7 p.m. Tuesday. It took about an hour for the crowd to transform into “more aggressive agitators who began breaking the law,” Putney said.

Shortly before 11 p.m., police donned gas masks. Soon, clouds of tear gas bloomed in front of their lines. Protesters damaged at least two CMPD vehicles.

“Accountability!” one man shouted repeatedly at CMPD officers. “You don’t get to murder us and get away with it!” yelled another.

More officers were deployed to the scene throughout the night. At about 1:45 a.m., some people blocked nearby Interstate 85, broke into a tractor-trailer and set items on fire, Putney said.

WBTV said three of its reporters were hit during the protest, and at least one went to the hospital after a blow to the head.

Around 3:30 a.m., protesters moved to the Walmart on North Tryon Street, where they broke windows and doors and looted the store. It was closed early Wednesday, with wooden pallets piled in front of the doors and shopping carts blocking the driveway into the lot.

Several hundred people blocked streets well after midnight, despite the use of tear gas by police in riot gear. Clouds of tear gas drifted over the crowd, and people coughed and fell back before walking toward police lines again multiple times.

They held signs that said “Stop Killing Us” and “Black Lives Matter,” and they chanted “No justice, no peace.” One sign read: “IT WAS A BOOK.”

A protestor carries a sign along Old Concord Rd. on Tuesday night, Sept. 20, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. The protest began on Old Concord Road at Bonnie Lane, where a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot a man in the parking lot of The Village at College Downs apartment complex Tuesday afternoon. The man who died was identified late Tuesday as Keith Scott, 43, and the officer who fired the fatal shot was CMPD Officer Brentley Vinson. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

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A protestor carries a sign along Old Concord Rd. on Tuesday night, Sept. 20, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. The protest began on Old Concord Road at Bonnie Lane, where a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot a man in the parking lot of The Village at College Downs apartment complex Tuesday afternoon. The man who died was identified late Tuesday as Keith Scott, 43, and the officer who fired the fatal shot was CMPD Officer Brentley Vinson. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

The scene was sometimes chaotic and tense, with water bottles and stones thrown at police lines, but many protesters called for peace and implored their fellow demonstrators not to act violently.

A CMPD helicopter circled low over the crowd, shining a searchlight on the protesters. Old Concord Road was shut down. Some protesters began to throw water bottles and rocks.

Not all the interactions were so tense. Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, police were seen handing bottles of water to the several dozen people who were still protesting.

Charlotte pastor Ray McKinnon said he went to the scene near the apartment complex when he heard about the incident. He found himself in the middle of an intersection where tear gas was sprayed.

“I was literally in the road praying,” he said. “What I saw on the faces of the protesters and police officers was similar — there was the same hurt.”

He said people “feel like they’re not being heard.”

Roberts said Wednesday morning she has spoken to the White House, Gov. Pat McCrory and other community leaders. “We are a collaborative community. We rise and fall together,” she said.

Other community leaders joined Roberts in seeking calm as the investigation unfolds.

Charlotte city council member Greg Phipps, in whose district the protests took place, said: “I can understand the frustration of people but we have to abide by the law. It’s a situation that we have to be very careful about.”

McKinnon said that people are frustrated, and wanted police to release video footage.

A public records search shows that Scott was convicted in April 2004 of a misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon charge in Mecklenburg County. Other charges stemming from that date were dismissed: felony assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and misdemeanors assault on a child under 12, assault on a female and communicating threats.

In April 2015 in Gaston County Court, Scott was found guilty of driving while intoxicated.

In 1992, Scott was charged in Charleston County, S.C., with several different crimes on different dates, including carrying a concealed weapon (not a gun), simple assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He pleaded guilty to all charges.

Scott also was charged with aggravated assault in 1992 and assault with intent to kill in 1995. Both charges were reduced but the disposition of the case is unclear.

Protestors walk down Harris Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

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Protestors walk down Harris Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Sept. 21, 2016 in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

In other developments:

— The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina called on CMPD to release any video footage that captured the shooting.

— An activist group calling itself True Healing Under God (T.H.U.G.) held a press conference Wednesday, questioning the police department’s version of events and promising to hire a lawyer.

The group also called for African Americans in the community to begin an economic boycott of the city’s white-owned businesses, specifically citing the largest malls in and around Charlotte.

BJ Murphy from the Nation of Islam also urged an economic boycott of the city.

— Following standard procedure with any officer-involved shooting, CMPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau will conduct a separate but parallel investigation to determine whether CMPD policies and procedures were followed. As part of department protocol, Vinson will be placed on administrative leave.

— The neighborhood where the incident occurred was quiet Wednesday, aside from a large media presence. All lanes of Interstate 85 had reopened Wednesday but were still littered with rocks and glass.

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(c)2016 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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