Charlotte drew the eyes of the nation this week after a police-involved shooting placed the North Carolina city in the middle of a raging debate over law enforcement in minority communities.
Much of this attention has fallen upon the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as it investigates the circumstances leading up to the death of Keith Lamont Scott, 43, on Tuesday. Police say Scott was armed and the shooting appeared to be justified; Scott’s family disputes this.
The department swiftly identified the officer who shot and killed Scott as Brentley Vinson, 26, and placed him on administrative leave.
The deadly encounter sparked riots and violent protests and became a focal point for outrage from the Black Lives Matter movement, which broadly accuses officers of using excessive force against black men.
But in a twist from many of the police-involved shootings that have led to demonstrations, both the officer and the slain man in Charlotte are African-American.
Now Vinson has been placed in the national spotlight.
The Charlotte Observer reported that Vinson, who has been with the department for two years, played football while attending Ardrey Kell High School and sought to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a cop.
His football coach at Jay M. Robinson Middle School, Larry Kennedy, told the local paper that he would frequently talk about one day becoming a federal officer. A reporter for WSOC-TV tweeted that Vinson’s father was one of the department’s first black detectives.
Officer Brantley Vinson grew up in Charlotte. His father was one of the first black detectives for the Charlotte Police Department
— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) September 21, 2016
“I thought when he became a police officer like his dad [Alex] that it was a perfect fit for him,” Kennedy said to the Charlotte Observer. “I’ve watched this kid work his butt off from an early age. … He’s a phenomenal kid and happens to be in an unfortunate situation right now, and I hate to see him be in the middle of it and being vilified the way he is.”
Vinson continued playing football at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he majored in criminal justice. The coaching staff at the time described his athletic ability in glowing terms on his player bio.
“Had an excellent spring at a new position … brings speed to the position … provides tremendous speed in blitzing and coming off the edges … real physical ball player … can cover a lot of ground … will play deep sometimes … makes the defense stronger.”
One of Vinson’s friends, Michael Scurlock, told CNN that Vinson is “distraught” and “torn” over the incident.
“No matter if it’s justified or unjustified, it’s tough when you have to know that you had to take someone else’s life,” the friend said.
Scurlock said he had a brief phone conversation with Vinson and could tell that the situation was hard for him based on the emotional tone of his voice.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) September 21, 2016
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney said that officers from the Metro Division Crime Reduction Unit found Scott inside a car at the Village at College Downs apartment complex.
He said that Scott stepped out of the vehicle with a handgun and did not drop the weapon despite “loud and clear verbal commands,” which were corroborated by witnesses,” prompting Vinson to shoot.
Scott’s family members initially told the media that he was reading a book and was unarmed at the time of the incident.
Putney said there are at least two videos of the fatal encounter — from a police dash camera and a body camera — but has declined to release them to the general public because he does not want the footage to interfere with the integrity of the investigation. He also said the videos alone paint an incomplete picture and need to be understood in the context of all the additional evidence the police have gathered.
Scott’s family, however, were permitted to watch the videos and are calling for them to be released.