Citizens Review Board: Decision to Clear Cop Who Killed Keith Scott Made in Error

Charlotte's Citizens Review Board has determined that there was "substantial evidence of error" in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police's decision that the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in September was justified.

By Lavendrick Smith

Charlotte's Citizens Review Board has determined that there was "substantial evidence of error" in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police's decision that the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in September was justified.

In a closed session Tuesday evening, the board agreed to hold a second hearing in August to weigh more evidence to see if Officer Brentley Vinson acted lawfully when he shot Scott during a Sept. 20 confrontation outside a University City apartment complex.

Scott's death sparked protests and riots in the city, leading to dozens of arrests.

CMPD decided in April Vinson acted according to department procedures when he shot Scott. Vinson had told investigators he feared for his life and the lives of other officers at the scene.

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray had also ruled the shooting was justified and decided against criminal charges for Vinson.

The department's internal findings in April meant Vinson wouldn't face punishment from CMPD, including suspension or termination. Scott's family appealed those findings to the board.

The board came to their decision to hold an additional hearing after deliberating for more than an hour. Julian Wright, attorney for the board wouldn't discuss what was said in the closed session that helped the board reach their decision.

The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 8 at 9 a.m., when evidence and witnesses will be heard and the Scott family and CMPD will be able to make their cases to the board.

"It'll look a lot like a trial," Wright said.

If the board votes that Vinson was unjustified in shooting Scott, the group can recommend that CMPD change its finding. In that case, Vinson could be subject to punishment for the shooting.

The Citizens Review Board, created in 1997, hears citizen complaints about CMPD findings regarding police conduct.

The board has been scrutinized because it has yet to rule in favor of citizens. A 2013 Observer investigation found that the board had never sided with a citizen complaint out of the 79 cases it had reviewed up to that point.

It isn't guaranteed that the board will side with the Scott family. Wright said more than half the evidence presented at the next hearing would have to show clear error in CMPD's findings for the board to be in agreement that the shooting was unjustified.

The city released a statement Tuesday night in support of the board's decision.

"The work of the Citizens Review Board is crucial in ensuring transparency, fairness and accountability," Sandy D'Elosua Vastola, a city spokesperson said in the statement. "The City of Charlotte respects today's decision by the Citizens Review Board and thanks the members of the board for their service."

(c)2017 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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