CHARLOTTE, N.C.: The fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer in Charlotte is only the latest shooting to raise questions about how the department uses body cameras.
Six people were fatally shot since body cameras were given to all patrol officers about a year ago. But the officers who fired the fatal shots in five of those cases — including Keith Lamont Scott’s — weren’t using the cameras.
The weekend release of police footage showing the shooting of Scott left questions in many people’s minds — including whether he was holding a gun. Scott’s family said he didn’t have a weapon. The footage includes body camera video from another officer but not the black officer who fatally wounded Scott.
The gun recovered at the scene of Scott’s shooting had been stolen and later sold to Scott, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police source told the Associated Press on Monday. The source insisted on speaking anonymously because the State Bureau of Investigation continues to look into the case. SBI Agent Erik Hooks declined comment when asked whether the gun was stolen.
Scott’s family and advocacy groups complain the department divulged only about three minutes of footage from two cameras. They have urged the police department to release all other video footage it has, as well as audio recordings of communications that could clarify how the situation unfolded. A media coalition is also requesting more footage.
Police Chief Kerr Putney has said the officer who shot Scott wasn’t wearing a body camera that day because he’s part of a tactical unit.
“Our tactical units don’t all have body-worn cameras at this point,” Putney told reporters on Saturday, adding they are to receive them in the future. He said was previously reluctant to make officers in high-risk operations wear cameras showing tactics and locations.
The department said plainclothes officers who saw Scott with a gun and marijuana left the area to put on vests identifying them as police before confronting him.
If the officers “had the foresight to put on their police vest, why did you not put on your body cam?” asked Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte NAACP chapter.
Susanna Birdsong, a legal policy expert for the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned whether the department is violating its own body camera policy instituted in April 2015.
The policy, according to the department’s site, states the cameras must be activated in situations including arrests and encounters with suspicious people. It doesn’t address whether tactical units must wear them.
Referring to the Scott case and others, Mack said she’s angry not all units have the cameras yet.
“It speaks to the culture of the police department that even when policies and procedures are put in place, that they feel they don’t have to follow them,” she said.
In three previous cases from December and January, the Mecklenburg County district attorney cleared officers who killed suspects who fired shots first. In one case, an officer wasn’t wearing a body camera because he was working off-duty security in uniform at a mall. A second case involved a tactical unit not equipped with body cameras. Footage existed in the third case but was poor quality, authorities said.