Charlotte officials say they are preparing for more protests today following a night of violence over a police officer’s fatal shooting of an African-American man Tuesday in the University City area. The dead man was identified as Keith Lamont Scott, 43.
Article by Joe Marusak, Ely Portillo, Mark Price and Adam Bell
Sixteen police officers were injured overnight in a series of clashes, and there were reports early Wednesday of motorists on Interstate 85 being hurt and their vehicles damaged when protesters threw rocks, bottles and traffic cones off interstate overpasses onto traffic below.
The officers hurt suffered mostly minor injuries, though one was hit in the face with a rock, officials said.
At a Wednesday news conference, city leaders appealed for calm and promised a thorough investigation.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts held a Wednesday press conference and urged the community to remain calm and wait for the facts in the case to be released before jumping to conclusions.
Her comments came just an hour before one activist group held its own news conference, urging the black community to start an economic boycott of white-owned businesses Charlotte.
Roberts says she has been in contact with the governor’s office, the White House and the NAACP, and said the city would work to get out information as quickly as possible, while also dispelling rumors being spread on social media.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said the department is still viewing video from the scene, though the officer involved in the shooting himself was not wearing a camera. Putney said the officer who fired the shots was in plain clothes, wearing a vest and was accompanied by uniformed officers when they approached the victim.
It remains unclear whether Scott was pointing a gun at the officer when he was shot, Putney said. The officer was also African-American.
Putney added that officers have not found a book at the scene of the shooting, contrary to social media claims that Scott was holding a book.
“I can tell you we did not find a book that has been referenced to,” Putney said. “We did find a weapon. The weapon was there and witnesses have corroborated it, beyond just the officers.”
Putney said the department would be staffed Wednesday in expectation of more protests, which he believes will be peaceful. “We’ll be prepared for whatever we see…We’re hoping for best but will be prepared for the worst,” he said.
The destruction late Tuesday and early Wednesday included blocking all lanes of Interstate 85 and looting a Walmart on North Tryon Street at about 3:30 a.m. The store was closed early Wednesday, with wooden pallets piled in front of the doors and shopping carts blocking the driveway into the lot.
Three or more tractor trailer trucks were stopped and looted on Interstate 85, and at least two fires were started on the interstate, as the protesters burned items removed from the trucks.
Motorists were reportedly stuck on Interstate 85 for hours at the height of the protests, which ignited at a time when the nation has seen a spate of police shootings of black men, which has led to protests from Ferguson, Mo., to Tulsa to Chicago and started the Black Lives Matter movement.
Only one person has been arrested so far, police said. The neighborhood where the incident occurred was quiet Wednesday, aside from a large media presence.
Charlotte’s Tuesday night protests began on Old Concord Road at Bonnie Lane, where a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot a man in the parking lot of a University City apartment complex Tuesday afternoon.
The officer who fired the fatal shot was CMPD Officer Brentley Vinson, a police statement said.
Police said they had been searching for someone who had an outstanding warrant at The Village at College Downs complex on Old Concord Road when they saw Scott leave his car holding a gun.
Officers approached Scott after he got back into the car. He emerged from the car again armed with a firearm “and posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers, who subsequently fired their weapon striking the subject,” police said in a statement. “The officers immediately requested Medic and began performing CPR.”
Medic took Scott to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Scott was not the person officers were searching for to arrest on the outstanding warrants, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told reporters later.
Police said they recovered the firearm Scott was holding. But a woman who said she is Scott’s daughter claimed on a live-streamed video on Facebook that Scott was unarmed when he was shot. The video went viral, with more than 521,000 views by 9:30 p.m.
In the video, the woman said her father was sitting in his car reading a book and waiting for the school bus to drop off his son. She claimed that her father was Tasered and then shot four times, and that he was disabled.
“IT WAS A BOOK” one protester’s sign read.
Police declined to respond directly to the woman’s accusations.
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.
His mother, Vernita Walker of Charleston, SC, said Wednesday her son had seven children.
“He was a family man,” she said. “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.
In April 2015 in Gaston County Court, Scott was found guilty of driving while intoxicated.
Roberts tweeted early Wednesday: “The community deserves answers and full investigation will ensue. Will be reaching out to community leaders to work together.”
The protesters began to gather as night fell, hours after the shooting. They held signs that said “Stop Killing Us” and “Black Lives Matter,” and they chanted “No justice, no peace.” The scene was sometimes chaotic and tense, with water bottles and stones chucked 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 bright searchlight on the protesters. Old Concord Road was shut down. Some protesters began to throw water bottles and rocks.
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, one cruiser and one SUV, which were removed from the scene. One officer was hit in the face with a rock, CMPD said. Observer news partner 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.
At one point, the crowd began pushing down the ramp from Old Concord to Harris Boulevard West, blocking the road. Police deployed tear gas on that road as well.
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.
As is standard procedure with any fatal police shooting, CMPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau will conduct a separate but parallel investigation to determine whether CMPD policies and procedures were followed.
Per department protocol, Vinson will be placed on administrative leave.