Official Stupidity Killed Keith Lamont Scott

Shooting a man slowly backing away is no way to preserve or protect

Some reasonable people are weighing the available evidence and waiting for more definitive proof of various allegations before they decide whether or not they think the death of Keith Lamont Scott, 43, in broad daylight in a parking lot in a housing development in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the sunny afternoon of September 20 was a police execution.

Those reasonable people are being unreasonable: the police clearly executed Keith Lamont Scott as he was slowly backing away from them, his hands at his sides, his body slack. The question that needs answering is: why did they execute this non-threatening, possibly unarmed black man?

The most obvious answer, up and down the line, is official stupidity, official lethal stupidity, the same sort of official lethal stupidity that protects the powerful against the powerless everywhere.

As of September 25, the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department (CMPD) had not made full disclosure of evidence in the shooting, but had posted a timeline (below, in bold, annotated) declared to be “Facts from the CMPD Investigation.” The most remarkable thing about these “facts” (maybe) is that they do not include any reference to the presence of Rakeyia Scott, Scott’s wife of 20 years, during the shooting. She was there, that’s a fact. She shot video that includes the shooting, that’s a fact. In the video she screams at the police not to shoot her husband (“Don’t shoot him”), she screams that he has no gun (“He has no weapon”), she screams that he has a book, she screams that he has a brain injury (“He has a TBI [traumatic brain injury], he is not going to do anything to you guys, he just took his medicine”), she screams for her husband to comply (“Keith, don’t let them break the windows. Come on out the car”), she screams, “Keith, don’t do it. Keith get out the car” (it’s not clear what “it” is), and she screams again, “Keith! Keith! Don’t you do it. Don’t you do it.”

Interspersed with Mrs. Scott’s screams, police in the background are also screaming, mostly “Drop the gun.” Fifty seconds into this video a police officer executes Keith Lamont Scott with four quick shots (he will die later, at a hospital). There is no way to make sense of this shooting as anything but an execution without including this video in any honest assessment (even if it can be debunked). The CMPD “Facts” omits Mrs. Scott’s video, withheld two police videos for days, and reportedly is still withholding other videos. All this strongly suggests that the CMPD “investigation” is neither thorough nor honest.

But that’s not just on CMPD. The state of North Carolina has passed a law that requires dishonesty and cover-up, actually barring public police agencies from releasing police videos to the public. Other states have passed similar laws. Transparency is an enemy of the state. The CMPD stall in releasing video may have something to do with the North Carolina gag law that takes effect October 1, 2016. The CMPD timeline begins:

Facts from the CMPD Investigation

These are the facts as we know them right now based on statements from witnesses and evidence gathered from the scene:

  • On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, at 3:54 p.m., officers from the Metro Division Crime Reduction Unit were searching for a suspect with an outstanding warrant at The Village at College Downs.

Keith Lamont Scott, apparently randomly, arrived soon after and parked his car beside the unmarked police car in a public parking lot. If he saw the police, what he saw was two men in civilian clothes, still sitting in their unmarked vehicle. The CMPD’s saying they “were searching for a suspect” is right at the edge of false. That’s what they should have been doing. Their job was to serve a warrant on some other person. For unexplained reasons, they stopped doing their job and turned their attention to Keith Lamont Scott, who was still sitting in his car. That seems stupid on its face, but might be justified under extraordinary circumstances (which don’t include a man sitting in his car minding his own business).

  • Officers observed a subject, Mr. Keith Lamont Scott, inside a vehicle in the apartment complex. The subject exited the vehicle armed with a handgun. Officers observed the subject get back into the vehicle at which time they began to approach the subject.

If, in fact, “subject exited the vehicle armed with a handgun,” that might be an extraordinary circumstance – but arguably not, in a state where open carry is legal and the cops are in plain clothes. There is, as yet, no video showing the cops identifying themselves to Keith Lamont Scott. And how long was the subject outside the vehicle? What did he do while he was outside the vehicle? When he got back inside the vehicle, handgun or not, why wasn’t that the end of the episode? Why was there no presumption of innocence? Why did the officers approach the subject only after he was back in the car (if he ever actually got out)?

This is critical. A man in a car is not an overt threat to anyone. A man in a car with a handgun in his possession (not pointed at himself or anyone else) is not a threat to anyone. So what actually motivated the cops to move in for the kill?

  • Officers gave loud and clear verbal commands, corroborated by witnesses, for the subject to drop the weapon.

These commands are, oddly, inaudible in the police body cam video, which is silent for 28 seconds, until after the shooting, which occurs roughly 23 seconds into the 71-second video. In Mrs. Scott’s video, the commands are audible and clear: “Hands up!” “Drop the gun,” [at least nine times] and “Drop the fucking gun.” There is also an unidentified voice, not Mrs. Scott, shouting “Don’t shoot” once. Otherwise this seems like typical, semi-hysterical police screaming – until one realizes that police were screaming at Keith Lamont Scott to put his hands up inside his car. That certainly seems stupid.

A website called “Bearing Arms” claims that the police body cam video clearly shows Keith Lamont Scott was wearing an ankle holster on his right leg. The website also says the video does not clearly show that Scott’s right hand is empty. The image is grainy, and both conclusions are uncertain. What the image shows more clearly is a police handgun pointed directly at Scott, who appears to be looking at the police officer holding it.

What the body cam video shows most clearly is the agitated state of the officer wearing it, as he scrambles about like a squirrel, reinforcing the sense of danger and crisis, when a calm, thoughtful demeanor might have saved a life.

  • In spite of these verbal commands, Mr. Scott exited the vehicle still armed with the handgun as officers continued to tell him to drop his weapon.

This assertion is problematical, even if it’s true as stated (which seems unlikely). The police dash cam video shows Keith Lamont Scott getting out of his car – backwards – about six seconds into the video. He continues to walk slowly, backwards, in a half circle away from the visible cops, who continue to shout indistinctly. Keith Lamont Scott’s gait is slow and unsteady. There is nothing in his right hand. His left hand is obscured. He was right-handed. Roughly nine seconds of non-threatening behavior later, Scott is executed by four quick shots.

  • The subject posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers and Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon striking the subject. The officers immediately requested Medic and began performing CPR.

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – in any of the videos to support the claim that “subject posed an imminent deadly threat” to anyone in the universe. Officer Vinson, 26, who is also black (as is CMPD police chief Kerr Putney), has been a police officer for two years. Vinson is also the son of one of the first black detectives in Charlotte. Vinson has not yet spoken publicly, but one of his friends told CNN that Vinson is “distraught, as well he might be for any number of reasons. Even if legally justified, his execution of Keith Lamont Scott looks wholly, unnecessarily stupid.

The remainder of the CMPD timeline deals with events after the shooting.

On September 24, four days after the shooting, according to the Charlotte Observer, the CMPD gave another, enhanced, but hardly more credible account of the event:

Two officers in plain clothes were in an unmarked car waiting to serve a warrant when Scott’s white SUV pulled in beside them.

They saw Scott roll what they believed to be “a marijuana ‘blunt.’” They returned to watching for their suspect, and then Vinson saw Scott hold up a gun.

They withdrew to a spot nearby and put on duty vests that said “Police” that would identify them as officers.

When they came back, Scott still had the gun. They identified themselves as police officers, the department said, and told him loudly and repeatedly to drop the weapon. Scott did not comply.

Then a uniformed officer in a marked SUV drove up to assist, and an officer started pounding on the front passenger window.

Scott then got out with the gun and backed away from the vehicle, police said, but did not drop the weapon.

This is the narrative pretty much accepted in mainstream media, including a New York Times “What We Know” article September 26. That “responsible” piece is full of responsible “experts” speculating about ways the cops could have been doing the right thing, even though the official narrative is patently flawed and raises questions that go unanswered.

Why does the “blunt” not appear in the initial account? How is it that cops sitting in one car can see what someone is doing in another car, even one relatively close? If they saw Scott “roll” a blunt and later produced a partly smoked blunt in evidence (as they did), why don’t they say they saw him smoking it? If Scott was rolling a blunt, why would he be “holding up a gun”? Why would he be holding up a gun at all? What does that even mean, “saw Scott hold up a gun”? When the cops decide to put on vests, what does that show about their state of mind? Here is where the timeline becomes important – how long does all this take? When Mrs. Scott’s video begins, the cops are already screaming at Keith Lamont Scott, who is still in his car.

Why do the cops pay no attention to Keith Lamont Scott’s wife, who is trying to get them to de-escalate? The man is still in the car and they’re threatening to break the windows. If you think a man in a car has a gun, why would you try to break his passenger side front window where you’d be a close target? Forcing such a man out of the car only makes the situation more dangerous. As long as he’s in the car, surrounded by police (at least four), there is minimal risk to pausing to talk to the wife, to learn who he is, what injury he has, what medication he’s on, and any other de-escalating information.

The cops didn’t do that. The cops acted like caricature cops. The cops were stupid, unnecessarily stupid. But they are trained to be stupid. Police training includes a certain amount of reflexive stupidity like this. The police hierarchy that requires this training is stupid. Police stupidity is protected by legislators who protect them from their own lethal stupidity by passing laws that conceal the evidence that reveals that stupidity. Legislators are protected from their stupidity by courts that stupidly accept the legality of withholding evidence of lawful stupidity. It’s culturally endless, but on the positive side, at least law enforcement isn’t as stupid as the prison system in America. But that’s another story.

For now, the Charlotte police are showing pictures of a gun and a holster and a blunt they say belonged to Keith Lamont Scott and asking you to believe that that justifies their executing him. But it’s still an open question whether the gun or the holster or the blunt – or all of them – were planted by cops whose behavior was too stupid to preserve his life.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll (2019) is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.