CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte police refused under mounting pressure Thursday to release video that could resolve wildly different accounts of the shooting of a black man, as the National Guard arrived to try to head off a third night of violence in this city on edge.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said that releasing police dashcam and body camera footage of the killing of 43-year Keith Lamont Scott could undermine the investigation. He told reporters the video will be made public when he believes there is a “compelling reason” to do so.
“You shouldn’t expect it to be released,” Putney said. “I’m not going to jeopardize the investigation.”
Meanwhile, an undisclosed number of National Guardsmen assembled in Charlotte, activated by Gov. Pat McCrory after a second straight night of racial unrest of the sort that has convulsed other U.S. cities and seemed at odds with Charlotte’s image as a diverse, forward-looking business capital of the New South.
On Wednesday night, scores of rioters attacked reporters and others, set fires and smashed windows of hotels, office buildings and restaurants in the city’s bustling downtown section. Forty-four people were arrested, and one protester was shot and critically wounded; city officials said police did not shoot the man.
Hours before nightfall Thursday, the police chief said he saw no need for a curfew. In addition to the National Guardsmen, North Carolina state troopers and U.S. Justice Department conflict-resolution experts were sent to keep the peace.
The demonstrators have been demanding answers in Scott’s killing, with some carrying signs that read “Release the tapes.”
Police have said that Scott was shot to death Tuesday by a black officer after he disregarded loud, repeated warnings to drop his gun. Neighbors, though, have said he was holding only a book. The police chief said a gun was found next to the dead man, and there was no book.
Putney said that he has seen the video and it does not contain “absolute, definitive evidence that would confirm that a person was pointing a gun.” But he added: “When taken in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we said.”
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for Scott’s family, said the family would watch police video of the shooting later Thursday.
“The family wants answers. The family deserves answers,” Bamberg said. “Quite frankly, we don’t know what’s on the video. We know what law enforcement says is on the video.”
The lawyer also said that Scott’s wife saw him get shot, “and that’s something she will never, ever forget.” That is the first time anyone connected with the case has said the wife witnessed the shooting. Bamberg gave no details on what the wife saw.
Experts who track shootings by police noted that the release of videos can often quell protest violence, and that the footage sometimes shows that events unfolded differently than the official account.
“What we’ve seen in too many situations now is that the videos tell the truth and the police who were involved in the shooting tell lies,” said Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at Pace University School of Law. He said it is “irresponsible” of police not to release the video immediately.
Other cities have released footage of police shootings. Just this week, the Tulsa, Oklahoma, police department made public video of the disputed Sept. 16 shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white officer. But what actually happened remains murky.
Last year, a Chicago police officer was charged with murder the same day the city released dashcam video that showed him shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, footage that contradicted the accounts of officers who said the teen swung a knife at them.
“We all stand together declaring there must be transparency and the videos must be released,” the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said at news conference. “At this point, there is speculation because the videos have not been released. Be clear: There is unrest in Charlotte and across America because of what we do know.”
The police chief acknowledged that he has promised transparency in the investigation, but said, “I’m telling you right now, if you think I say we should display a victim’s worst day for consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”
Associated Press writers Seanna Adcox, Jeffrey Collins, Jack Jones and Gary Robertson contributed to this report.