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Fatal Police Shooting Sparks Protests In Charlotte, N.C.

Sep 21, 2016
Originally published on September 21, 2016 5:32 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Protests are continuing in Charlotte, N.C., today where there are very different stories about yesterday's fatal police shooting. Both the officer and the man he shot were African-American. Police say the man was holding a gun. Protesters say he was just holding a book. From member station WFAE, Michael Tomsic reports.

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MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: Police in Charlotte fired tear gas at protesters late last night. What had started peacefully morphed into people throwing rocks, hurting police officers and setting a fire in the hours after this Facebook video went viral.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: They shot my daddy 'cause he was black. He was sitting in the car, reading a [expletive] book, so they shot him.

TOMSIC: The family of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott has not talked to reporters so far. A review of court records shows he's faced a variety of criminal charges over the years in North and South Carolina and Texas. But some in the community say that shouldn't matter in this instance. Taheshia Williams says she saw what happened.

TAHESHIA WILLIAMS: That man had a book. I saw it when it fell off his lap when he got out the car to hold his hands up to show the police that he didn't have nothing.

TOMSIC: Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney says that is not true.

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CHIEF KERR PUTNEY: We did not find a book that has been made reference to. And we did find a weapon, and the weapon was there. And the witnesses corroborated it, too, beyond just the officers.

TOMSIC: At a press conference today, Putney laid out what he called the facts. Officers were looking for a suspect with an outstanding warrant. In that process, they saw Scott get out of a vehicle holding a handgun. Putney says officers approached, telling him to drop the weapon.

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PUTNEY: As the officers continued to yell at him to drop it, he stepped out, posing a threat to the officers. And Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon, striking the subject.

TOMSIC: Vinson, like Scott and Chief Putney, is African-American. Putney says the officers immediately requested a medic and started giving CPR. Scott died later at a hospital. Charlotte has been through this before. Three years ago community members praised police for quickly charging a white officer with voluntary manslaughter after he shot and killed an unarmed African-American. That officer's trial resulted in a hung jury last year.

In this case Putney says the investigation is ongoing. He says there is body camera and dash cam footage, although North Carolina law prevents him from releasing it during an investigation. ACLU attorney Susanna Birdsong argues Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police actually could and should release that video.

SUSANNA BIRDSONG: CMPD classifies body camera footage as records of a criminal investigation which gives them, you know, a lot of leeway to disclose or release that footage.

TOMSIC: A few days ago in Tulsa, Okla., police released video of an unarmed African-American man named Terence Crutcher being shot there. Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield says these shootings are hurting communities.

LAWANA MAYFIELD: As a African-American first outside of being an elected official, I have a thousand questions just like everyone else has. But why is it that we just had to go through this in another city in less than 72 hours? Why are we having this conversation again in Charlotte?

TOMSIC: But Mayfield also says she cannot pass judgment until all the details are out, and she says violent protests don't help anyone. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.