The Citizens Review Board began a hearing Tuesday on CMPD’s internal exoneration of the officer who fatally shot 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott last year. The hearing is expected to take at least two days. All of the testimony will be in closed session.
Before the hearing got underway, the city clerk made sure everyone involved had signed confidentiality forms. No one is allowed to discuss what is said during the hearing as required by state law, when a personnel matter is involved. In this case, the personnel issue is whether Officer Brentley Vinson should have been disciplined for fatally shooting Keith Lamont Scott last September.
Just inside the hearing room doorway, two activists held signs calling for justice and police accountability. Cassandra Ottley says she was also there to support members of the Citizens Review Board.
“We want to support them because we still have questionable cases that we don’t have answers on,” Ottley said. “They need to step up and we need a message to be sent to Chief Putney and the Mecklenburg Police Department that excessive force and killing people is not acceptable and that there has to be accountability and they need to reform some of the things they are doing. This is a step in the right direction, so I feel like there is some hope.”
The attorneys for the CMPD and Scott family were on hand to give opening statements, question and cross examine witnesses, and present video taken by the police and Scott’s wife.
Police said Scott was sitting in his vehicle and had marijuana and a gun in his possession at a University City apartment complex. They said he had the gun in his hand when he got out of his vehicle and was shot by Vinson. The shooting sparked protests in University City and uptown. The district attorney’s office did not press charges against Vinson. In April CMPD officials said the shooting was justified and that Vinson would not be disciplined.
The Citizens Review Board got involved after Scott’s family challenged CMPD’s finding. In June, the board ruled that substantial evidence of error existed to warrant this week’s fact-finding hearing. Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP President Corinne Mack waited outside as the hearing was underway.
“Now, CRB is in the limelight,” Mack said. “I’m happy about that but I’ll be even more happy if it comes out that they find that the decisions made are unsubstantiated and that there is a need for a deeper investigation.”
One activist on hand called for protests as the hearing plays out. Mack advised against it.
“Let’s see what happens and then we have direct action, because we need to get somewhere. All this blah, blah, blah gets us nowhere,” Mack said.
Mack says she is looking for tangible change, not protests, because she says the hearing is much bigger than Keith Lamont Scott. Any decision by the review board is only a recommendation. If the board rules that CMPD erred, Chief Kerr Putney could reverse his previous decision. If Putney were to stick by his decision the city manager could overrule him.