New York - Police have rejected a claim by family members of a black man shot and killed in North Carolina that he was unarmed and sitting reading a book.
Peaceful protests turned violent late on Tuesday night, after the shooting of 43-year-old Keith Scott that afternoon by officers in the city of Charlotte. At least one police vehicle was set on fire and officers used tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Associated Press reports that North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency on Wednesday night in the state's largest city and called in the National Guard after Charlotte's police chief said he needed the help.
Protesters say that Scott, who had seven children, was not armed, but was carrying a book. They also said he was disabled.
“He didn’t have a gun,” a woman identifying herself as his sister told local television. "He wasn’t messing with nobody.”
But amid calls for dialogue coming from the city's mayor, police on Wednesday insisted that Scott was carrying a handgun and had represented a threat to the officer who approached him.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said officers were searching for a suspect on Tuesday when they saw Scott exit a vehicle with a handgun.
Officers told Scott, who was not the suspect they were looking for, to drop the gun. He got out of the vehicle a second time still carrying it, the chief said, and he was shot because he posed a threat.
“It's time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story's a little bit different as to how it's been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” he said. He said a weapon had been recovered from the scene, but they had found no book.
The Associated Press said his comments were an apparent reference to a profanity-laced, hour-long video that a woman claiming to be Scott's daughter posted to Facebook soon after the shooting, saying that her father had an unspecified disability and was unarmed.
In it, she appeared to be at the shooting scene, which is surrounded by yellow police tape, as she yelled at officers.
“Oh my gosh y’all, look… the police just shot my daddy four times for being black,” she says at the beginning of the hour-long live video stream. “They tased him first and then shot him.”
As the various narratives collided, protesters took to the streets of Chartlotte and a number of police vehicles were destroyed in the area near to where the fatal shooting took place.
A large group of demonstrators gathered near the apartment complex where the incident happened. By the early hours of Wednesday morning, demonstrators occupied a segment of Interstate Highway 83. At least 16 officers were injured, including one who was hit in the face with a stone.
The shooting occurred at 4pm on Tuesday, a day after police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released a video showing the shooting death of Terence Crutcher on Friday by one of their officers, adding to ongoing scrutiny of local police departments across the US for the almost routine killing of unarmed black people.
The black officer who shot Scott, Brently Vinson, has been placed on administrative leave as is standard procedure in such cases. Vinson has been with the department for two years.
BJ Murphy, an outspoken leader of the Nation of Islam, called for an economic boycott of the city. He said if “black lives don’t matter, black money shouldn't matter”.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts appealed for calm. “We are calling for peace, we are calling for calm, we are calling for dialogue,” she said. “We understand that with these events everyone has different viewpoints and perspectives. That makes it even more important for us to treat each other with dignity and respect and to wait until we have all the information.”
She said she had been in touch with the White House along with state and local leaders. The city was preparing to handle more potential demonstrations by bolstering its police presence.
“We all see this as a tragedy,” the mayor said. “We all want to work toward a peaceful community. We know that we have work to do.”
More on the Tulsa shooting:
The unarmed black man shot dead in the middle of a street by a white Oklahoma police officer had run-ins with the law dating back to his teenage years and recently served four years in prison.
But those closest to Terence Crutcher described him as a church-going father who was starting to turn his life around. After marking his 40th birthday with his twin sister last month, Crutcher sent her a text that read, "I'm gonna show you, I'm gonna make you all proud."
Crutcher was due to start a music appreciation class at a local community college on Friday, the day Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby fatally shot him outside his abandoned SUV.
The shooting was captured by a police helicopter and a cruiser dashcam, though it's not clear from the footage what led Shelby to draw her gun or what orders officers gave Crutcher. An attorney for Crutcher's family said Crutcher committed no crime and gave officers no reason to shoot. Shelby was put on paid administrative leave.
Crutcher had been arrested in the past. In 1995 in nearby Osage County, officers said they saw him fire a weapon out a vehicle window. Records show Crutcher was ordered to exit the vehicle for a pat-down search and began making a movement to his right ankle before an officer managed to get control of him. A .25-caliber pistol was found in his right sock, according to an affidavit.
Crutcher received suspended sentences after entering a no-contest plea to charges of carrying a weapon and resisting an officer, court records show.
Oklahoma prison officials confirmed Crutcher also served four years in prison from 2007 to 2011 on a Tulsa County drug-trafficking conviction.
Court records show officers used force against Crutcher on at least four separate occasions, including a 2012 arrest on public intoxication and obstruction complaints. In that case, an officer used a stun gun on Crutcher twice while he was face down on the ground because the officer said Crutcher didn't comply with at least three orders to show his hands, a police affidavit states. Crutcher's father showed up while he was being arrested and told the officers that his son had "an ongoing problem" with the drug PCP, the affidavit states.
"Nobody claimed that he was a perfect individual. Who is perfect? But that night he was not a criminal," said Crutcher family attorney Melvin Hall regarding Crutcher's criminal record. "He did not have any warrants. He had not done anything wrong. He had a malfunctioning vehicle, and he should have been treated accordingly."
Neighbors described Crutcher as friendly and generous. They said he lived with four young children, cooked barbecue meals that he'd share with others and often belted out gospel songs in his driveway.
The Reverend Willie Lauderdale, whose church is near Crutcher's home, said Crutcher wasn't a member but would come sing some Sundays.
Camellia Bryant said her children and Crutcher's would have sleepovers. She said he was known throughout the neighborhood.
Melrita Gilliam said she would see Crutcher drink alcohol sometimes "but he always kept it at home" and didn't drive.
"I never seen him raging or nothing out there," she said.