The officer who fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott last September might now face consequences. CMPD initially cleared officer Brentley Vinson of any wrongdoing, but now the city’s Citizens’ Review Board says CMPD may have erred. An attorney for the Scott family, Charles Monnett, says Scott’s widow is pleased with the announcement, and that together they look forward to presenting their full case at a follow up hearing in August.
“What we want and what we’ve been seeking is a decision or a declaration that the killing of Keith Scott was not justified and that departmental rules, regulations, and guidelines would not and do not allow the use of deadly force in a situation such as the one that Keith was in," Monnett said.
Rumsey: Joining us now for more on this is WFAE’s Nick de la Canal. To start, was last night’s announcement a surprise, given the review board’s history?
De la Canal: Sure - I think it was. You know, the citizens review board has never overturned a CMPD decision. So to hear that this decision may have been made in error is unusual.
Now, it’s still not certain if the board will actually overturn this particular decision and find the Scott shooting unjustified. But what the board said last night was there was at least “substantial evidence of error” in the department’s finding - And that’s enough that a follow-up hearing is called for.
Rumsey: We heard the family’s attorney just now say that last September’s shooting was not in accordance with CMPD’s rules or regulations. Do you have any sense which rules he’s referring to?
De la Canal: Yes - I actually spoke with him prior to last night’s hearing, and what he pointed me to was a clause in CMPD’s “use of force” guidelines, which says officers should only use deadly force when the suspect is engaged in “aggravated, active aggression” that can lead to the death of or serious bodily injury to an officer, and the example they give is the discharge of a firearm.
Now if you’ll remember, CMPD maintains that Keith Scott was holding a gun when he got out of his car last September and kind of looked around at the officers surrounding him. But never did Scott fire his weapon before officer Vinson shot him.
But then, the guidelines also say that the examples given are just for clarification purposes, and they’re not meant to be all inclusive. So this is definitely a gray area and one that the review board will be looking at very closely.
Rumsey: What happens if the board finds officer Vinson did, in fact, violate department guidelines?
De la Canal: Well, the board would make a recommendation that CMPD Chief Kerr Putney reverse his earlier decision, and officer Vinson, who’s currently still on patrol with the department - would face discipline. It’s still not clear exactly what kind of discipline. Now Vinson has already has been cleared by the DA of criminal charges, and whatever the review board decides won’t have any effect on that.
Rumsey: How has the police department responded?
De la Canal: Well at its weekly press briefing today, we heard from Major Estella Patterson, who works for CMPD’s internal investigation unit. She said the department is standing by its original decision that this shooting was justified, and she essentially told everyone to just “wait and see,” basically saying that things could change after the next hearing.
“We have had cases before, where initially, just like this, they have not agreed with the chief,” Patterson said. “But once you have the full hearing, and they have all the information presented before them, they have an opportunity to hear from witnesses, then they determine at that point that the chief did not err.”
De la Canal: So in summary, the police department wants us to refrain from passing judgement until that next hearing, which has been scheduled for August 8th. And that hearing will be closed to the public by law, because it’s classified as a personnel matter.
WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn contributed to this segment.