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Columns : Editorial

Triple Jeopardy in Charlotte

Officer Brentley Vinson has faced scrutiny three times following the officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

July 10, 2017  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: Kelly Bracken
Photo: Kelly Bracken

Just before we went to press with this issue, the Citizen Review Board that responds to complaints against officers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) decided to hold a hearing on last year's fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by Officer Brentley Vinson.

The reason given for this decision was that the Board, which consists of 11 people who have no experience in law enforcement other than Citizen Police Academy attendance, determined there was “substantial evidence of error” in the CMPD’s finding that the shooting was justified. For the record, the District Attorney of Mecklenburg County also found the shooting justified. So this amounts to the third time this case has been dissected, once by police use-of-force experts and once by prosecutors, and now by the extremely unqualified citizen review board.

The complaint was brought to the Board by the Scott family. This is the same Scott family who swore that Scott did not have a gun only a book on the afternoon of Sept. 20 when he was shot and killed by Vinson. That argument holds absolutely no water as officers ordered him 10 times to “drop the gun” not “drop the book.” In addition the official investigation says a cocked pistol with a round in the chamber was found at the scene with Scott’s DNA on it and still frames of police video clearly show an ankle holster on Scott’s leg. Also, police say no book was found at the scene.

According to the official record, the Scott incident began when two plainclothes CMPD officers assembled to execute an arrest warrant. While they were getting ready they saw a man — later identified as Keith Lamont Scott — in a parked SUV rolling what appeared to be a blunt. Officer Vinson then noticed the man had a gun. The incident progressed and they ordered Scott to drop the gun and get out of the car. He did not comply. When Scott’s car window was smashed with a baton, he got out of the car holding the gun, police say. Multiple officers repeatedly ordered Scott to “drop the gun." He did not comply. And Officer Vinson shot and killed him.

Scott's family disputes this police account. They say Scott had no gun and was not dangerous despite the fact his wife previously filed a restraining order against him in 2015 that said he had a gun and that he told her he was a "killer." They also made statements on social media and in the press after the shooting that many in the Charlotte area blame for inciting rioting that led to one death and caused millions of dollars of damage in the city.

But despite all the evidence against the family's account of the incident and the DA's ruling that the shooting was justified, the Citizen Review Board was incompetent enough to give the Scotts what they wanted, a hearing that will amount to a trial of Officer Vinson. This despite the fact the only thing the Board can do is recommend that CMPD Chief Kerr Putney discipline his officer.

By granting this hearing, the Board has kicked a hornets' nest. The hearing, which is scheduled for Aug. 8, is sure to draw hundreds of protesters who won’t like its inevitable outcome when the Board once again says the shooting was justified. (Uptown Charlotte business owners may want to invest in some long sheets of plywood for their
windows.)

Since the Scott shooting, the murder rate is rising in Charlotte, as it has in every other major city that’s had a controversial officer-involved shooting and subsequent protests and/or riots. Some say this is the Ferguson Effect. That police are hesitant to be proactive. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know that officers do not want to experience what has happened to Officer Brentley Vinson, who has been forced to face repercussion after repercussion for deciding to use deadly force to protect himself, his fellow officers, and the public from a non-compliant man holding a gun.

The Constitution prohibits retrying a criminal defendant twice for the same offense once a verdict is rendered as double jeopardy. But it seems you can keep trying a police officer involved in a controversial shooting in the press, on social media, in the streets, and in the council chambers of ignorant or politically motivated citizen review boards repeatedly, regardless of how many times that shooting has been officially ruled as justified.


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