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Protesters Demand Tape Of Police Shooting Of Black Man Be Released


Charlotte, N.C., saw a third night of protests over the police shooting of a black man named Keith Scott. Protesters defied a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew but were also more peaceful than on previous nights. Some in the crowd chanted, release the tapes, a reference to police videos of this shooting which have been shown to Scott's family but have not been made public. Here's Police Chief Kurt Putney yesterday explaining why.


KERR PUTNEY: If there is compelling information that I think helps, we'll show it. But again, I'm going to be very intentional about protecting the integrity of the investigation. And in so doing, I'm not going to release the video.

MONTAGNE: For more on the videos, we're joined by our law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste.

Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now, despite what Chief Putney just said about the integrity of the investigation, he and the city are under huge pressure to release these two videos.

KASTE: Yes, the public apparently sees these videos as very important. The local NAACP has called for their release. They say this is a matter of transparency. Keith Scott's family, now that they've seen the tapes, say that they should be released.

But all of this interest is kind of interesting because the fact of the matter is the people who've seen the video say the videos don't actually answer clearly the question of whether Scott was holding a gun at that moment when he was shot. The chief says the videos don't provide, in his words, absolute definitive evidence that would confirm that a person was pointing a gun. And Scott's own family's lawyer says it's impossible to see what he had in his hand.

MONTAGNE: And yet, the police department's refusal to release those videos seems to be fanning suspicions of protesters. So in a way, why not release it?

KASTE: Well, you heard Chief Putney there mention the integrity of the investigation, and that really can be a factor. In complicated cases like this, investigators often worry that if these videos end up on the internet, on YouTube, they can somehow contaminate the memories of key witnesses 'cause memory is pretty suggestible. And when you've seen a photo or a video of something, it changes what you remember. And so in a lot of jurisdictions, when the police determine that a video is part of an active investigation, as they say, that's enough to keep them from being released.

MONTAGNE: Although videos are public documents ultimately, wouldn't they be subject to disclosure laws?

KASTE: Well, they are public documents in that they're created by a public agency. But there's a real problem here. Is privacy more important than public disclosure? Civil rights organizations are actually kind of torn over this whole question. And legislatures are, too, because the question is - well, do you want a police officer who comes to your house on a domestic disturbance call going back to a station and uploading that to the internet for everyone to see? Well, probably not. But at the same time, it's a public document. And legislatures are really at odds right now about how to balance those two things.

MONTAGNE: Well, if you - as you say, they're grappling with the question of who gets to see videos in general. What is driving that?

KASTE: There's a lot of interest in getting this more defined because trust is at stake. Right now, it seems kind of haphazard how police release these videos. It seems to a lot of people that they only release them when it favors the police officers in whatever shooting incident we're talking about.

In some cases, like in Chicago, the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the fact that the city fought for a year to keep the video under wraps and then was forced to release the video and then a officer was charged with murder as a result - that undermined trust deeply. And so there's a whole sense here that without kind of consistent, predictable standards, the public's trust will continue to be eroded unless they know why and when these videos are released.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste.

Thanks very much.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.

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