Earlier this week, John covered the case of the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the cell phone video released by his wife. (She witnessed the shooting personally and was engaged in conversation with the responding officers before and after the event.) The media narrative and the social media maelstrom arising from claims that Scott was unarmed and “only had a book” are what largely led to the recent riots in the area and something was needed to bring order to the situation. The police claimed to have video showing something different, including the fact that Scott was armed, but had thus far been siting on it.
I have been wondering, tweeting and arguing since it happened about how the cops in Charlotte should have made an exception to the rules and released the dash cam and body camera video they had as soon as it could be done without jeopardizing the case. Yesterday they apparently reached that point and put two videos out for the media to broadcast. (Charlotte Observer)
Video footage released Saturday shows Keith Lamont Scott taking four steps slowly backward with his arms at his sides when he is hit in a burst of four gunshots from police, then crumples to the pavement.
From neither vantage point – a police dashboard camera and a body camera worn by one of the officers on the scene – can it be determined whether Scott is holding a gun.
But police can be heard repeatedly shouting “Drop the gun!” at the 43-year-old Scott, who died from his wounds Tuesday as his wife stood nearby.
Before we get into what may or may not be solved by this, here are the two videos which the cops released. We offer these with the obvious warning that they contain graphic images which some readers may find disturbing.
Our colleague Bob Owens at Bearing Arms (who knows a thing or two about firearms and associated gear) hasn’t found a gun in the new video, but he’s pretty sure that he’s identified the ankle holster.
There’s also a free-frame of Keith Scott just before shots are fired. You cannot clearly see anything in his hands due to the grainy quality of the video, but an empty ankle holster is clearly visible on his right ankle.
The last I checked, those aren’t designed to carry books.
Here’s the frame Bob’s talking about.
As far as I’m concerned, releasing these videos was the right thing to do, but it’s not nearly as much of a game changer as had been advertised. In the end, this comes down to a case of perceptions versus rock hard proof. For my money, there’s virtually no question that Scott was armed. The cops were screaming “drop the gun” at him repeatedly, and if that was an effort to “frame” Scott it was a darned clever one since they would have had to have been working on it before they even shot him. Also, the presence of an ankle holster (even if it’s empty) is rather telling. As Bob said, you don’t strap one of those on to carry around your reading material.
But there’s also something missing from the videos and that’s a clear image of Scott holding the gun. There’s also absolutely no footage of him pointing a weapon at the cops and he doesn’t appear to have done so. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t representing a legitimate threat to the officers, but this allows a couple of avenues of attack on their story from those who are protesting and/or rioting. First, the real tinfoil hat crowd can still say that the gun was a plant and the cops just threw his book away. (That doesn’t explain his need for an ankle holster, but as I said, this one is in conspiracy theory territory.) But even if you don’t want to go that far, they can claim that the gun was still in the car when the shooting took place and the cops moved it to justify the use of lethal force.
I can see how these sorts of rumors catch fire. I’ll confess that until I took the holster and the repeated calls to drop the weapon into consideration, even I had a moment last night when I began considering how easy it would be to dispose of a book and plant a gun at the crime scene. That makes no sense with the rest of the known facts in context, but if your first inclination is to blame the cops I’m just saying I can see how a story like that takes hold.
The bottom line is that I don’t see these videos moving the ball much further down the field in either direction. If you were already of a mind to suspect a police coverup there isn’t enough here to 100% put you off the trail. If you felt the police acted appropriately, you’ll likely just reinforce your previously held opinion. And now we wait to see if the ongoing protest remain peaceful as they were last night or turn back into bloody riots.