Professor Kami Chavis discusses legal standard for excessive force in New York Times

Photo of Professor Kami Chavis

Criminal Justice Program Director and Professor Kami Chavis, Associate Dean for Research and Public Engagement

Professor Kami Chavis, director of the law school’s Criminal Justice Program and associate dean for research and public engagement, is quoted in the following original story, “What We Know About the Details of the Police Shooting in Charlottte,” written by Richard Fausset and Alan Blinder and published in The New York Times on Sept. 25, 2016. Continue reading the main story

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott here on Tuesday afternoon has sparked outrage and concern, and set off, once again, a national conversation about the treatment of minorities by the police. The details of the case have also been a source of intense debate. Here are some questions that readers have asked reporters at The New York Times since Mr. Scott’s death.

Why did police officers confront Mr. Scott?

Two officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department determined that Mr. Scott, 43, was a potential threat to public safety because they saw him with two items: what they believed was a marijuana cigarette and a gun, according to a statement released on Saturday by the department. The plainclothes officers, who had been near Mr. Scott’s home to serve a warrant on another person, first noticed Mr. Scott when he parked his S.U.V. next to their unmarked police vehicle, which was in his apartment complex in Charlotte’s University City neighborhood. The department said in a statement that its officers initially saw Mr. Scott “rolling what they believed to be a marijuana ‘blunt,’” but ignored the behavior and went about their business.

Later, one of the officers, Brentley Vinson, 26, said he saw Mr. Scott “hold a gun up,” the statement said. (A separate statement issued by the city on Tuesday said that Mr. Scott “exited the vehicle armed with a firearm,” and that officers approached him after he got back inside his white S.U.V.)

After seeing the gun, the authorities said on Saturday, the officers decided to approach Mr. Scott, but they first left the area to don safety vests that identified them as the police. They returned to the vicinity of his S.U.V., and “again” saw Mr. Scott with a gun.

Why do the police say that Officer Vinson fired upon Mr. Scott?

Body and dashboard camera footage released on Saturday provided no clear evidence that Mr. Scott had a gun. In the video, Mr. Scott’s arms were at his sides and he was backing away from his vehicle when he was shot.

In its statement on Saturday, the department said the officers gave “clear, loud and repeated verbal commands” to Mr. Scott that he should drop his handgun. When Mr. Scott did not, the department said, Officer Vinson “perceived Mr. Scott’s actions and movements as an imminent physical threat to himself and the other officers” and opened fire.

The State Bureau of Investigation is leading an inquiry into the shooting. Although the Charlotte police chief, Kerr Putney, said on Saturday that Officer Vinson was “absolutely not being charged by me at this point,” the decision about whether the officer will face prosecution will ultimately fall to others.

“If there was a weapon in his hand, then the case for using lethal force becomes stronger,” said Kami Chavis, a law professor who is the director of the criminal justice program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

But she also noted that there have been cases in which a person was unarmed “but it was determined that a reasonable officer could have viewed whatever it was in their hands as a weapon.” In many of those cases, officers were cleared of criminal conduct.

“Even if the officer was mistaken about what he had in his hand, and yet it was reasonable, it could be deemed a justified shooting,” Professor Chavis said.


Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spoke to reporters about the release of a police video in the shooting of Mr. Scott. Credit Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Some critics argue that the police overreacted. “It seems there were multiple opportunities to do this in a de-escalating way, and it seems like everything they did in response was escalating,” said Mark Dorosin, the managing lawyer at the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights. “I think there’s an argument to be made that they exceeded their authority.”

Read the rest of the story here: