CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A night of violent clashes between authorities and protesters after the fatal police shooting of an African-American man left North Carolina's largest city on edge Wednesday, as competing accounts began to take hold and residents here braced for the possibility of further unrest.
Officials in Charlotte urged calm and reiterated their position that the Tuesday afternoon shooting of the man, Keith L. Scott, 43, occurred after he posed an "imminent deadly threat" to police officers. But at the University City apartment complex where Scott was killed, critics of the city government suggested that investigators were covering up a murder, and cast doubts on the police's account. Some activists who spoke at a morning news conference called for an economic boycott of Charlotte.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said officers had found the gun that police said Scott had brandished before an officer fatally shot him and were examining police video of the encounter between Scott and officers as Scott stepped out of a car.
"He did have a weapon when he exited the vehicle," Putney said. "Officers were giving loud, clear verbal commands. The suspect exited the vehicle with a handgun, threatening officers."
While family members of Scott have said that he was unarmed, and was holding only a book, Putney said Wednesday morning, "We did not find a book."
About an hour later, John Barnett, a civil rights activist in Charlotte, said during a raucous news conference near the site of the shooting that Scott had simply been waiting for his son to arrive home from school.
"The truth of the matter is, he didn't point that gun," Barnett said. "Did he intend to really sit in a vehicle, waiting on his son to get home from school and then plot to shoot a cop if they pulled up on him?"
Adding to an atmosphere loaded with suspicion and mistrust, residents of the apartment complex gave varying accounts of Scott's death.
Some gave a different account from police of which officer had fired the fatal shots, and others said that no one had tried to administer CPR on Scott as officials had said.
"Since black lives do not matter for this city, then our black dollars should not matter," said B.J. Murphy, another Charlotte activist. "We're watching a modern-day lynching on social media, on television and it is affecting the psyche of black people."
Murphy added: "Everybody in Charlotte should be on notice that black people, today, we're tired of this bull. We're tired of being killed and nobody saying nothing. We're tired of our political leaders going along to get along; they're so weak, they don't have no sympathy for our grief. And we want justice."
Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that state officials would "do everything we can to support the mayor and the police chief in their efforts to keep the community calm and to get this situation resolved."
McCrory, a Republican, gained a reputation as a moderate during his 14-year tenure as mayor here, but his relations with the city have become strained as governor, particularly after he supported legislation overturning a local ordinance offering protections for gay and transgender people. His statement Wednesday added: "It's very important that we all work together as a team to solve a very difficult issue and to bring peace and resolution."
As an overcast day in Charlotte wore on, no one seemed certain whether the city was poised for a repeat of the violence Tuesday night.
"I do encourage the youth to be controlled," Barnett said, "but I can't control them."
Murphy said pointedly that he expected more demonstrations.
"I'm not telling our brothers and sisters to stop," he said. "We're not going to get out there and tell y'all: 'Oh, brother, you shouldn't do that. You shouldn't do this,' when we ain't getting no justice."
Later, a chant of "Hands up! Don't shoot" began. A man, deep into the crowd, shouted his gloomy assessment: "If you put your hands up, they're still going to shoot."
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday that the Justice Department "is aware of, and we are assessing, the incident that led to the death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte."
On Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, protesters blocked Interstate 85 and looted material from a tractor-trailer before setting the cargo ablaze, Putney said. Other demonstrators threw rocks at officers, causing at least 16 injuries and damage to several police cars. Police made one arrest and used tear gas to disperse protesters.
The protests had begun peacefully, the chief said, but "when that behavior becomes violent," officers had been compelled to respond more aggressively.
Putney said that the shooting occurred Tuesday around 4 p.m., when officers arrived at the apartment complex to serve a warrant on a resident. While there, the officers saw Scott step out of a car, armed with a gun, the chief said.
The officers ordered Scott to drop the weapon, and when he did not, Putney said, he was shot.
The chief said that police investigators were reviewing video from officers' body cameras, but that he did not believe that Brentley Vinson, the officer who police say killed Scott, was wearing a camera at the time of the shooting. Vinson has been placed on administrative leave, the department said.
The protests began in the University City neighborhood in northeast Charlotte, near the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus. WSOC-TV reported that looters later moved off the highway and tried to break into a Wal-Mart before officers arrived in force to keep them out, and at least one family driving on Interstate 85 reported that their car's windshield had been shattered by demonstrators throwing rocks.
In a series of Twitter posts, Mayor Jennifer Roberts urged calm and promised a thorough investigation into the death of Scott.
"The community deserves answers and full investigation will ensue," Roberts wrote. "Will be reaching out to community leaders to work together."
Although their accounts sometimes diverged, members of Scott's family generally told local news outlets that he had not had a weapon. Instead, they said, he had been clutching a book while waiting to pick up a child after school.
The shooting revived scrutiny of a police department that drew national attention about three years ago when a white officer was quickly charged with voluntary manslaughter after he killed Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man.
The shooting in Charlotte this week was the latest in a string of deaths of black people at the hands of police that have stoked outrage around the country. It came just a few days after a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, fatally shot Terence Crutcher, a black man who was unarmed and could be seen on video raising his hands above his head. The encounters, many of them at least partly caught on video, have led to intense debate about race relations and law enforcement.
In Charlotte, dozens of chanting demonstrators, some of them holding signs, began gathering near the site of the shooting Tuesday evening. Around 10 p.m., the police department wrote on Twitter that it had sent its civil emergency unit to the scene "to safely remove our officers."
"Demonstrators surrounded our officers who were attempting to leave scene," the department said. It identified Vinson, an employee since July 2014, as the officer who had fired his weapon. Vinson is black, according to local reports.
According to the department, officers saw Scott leave a vehicle with a weapon soon after they arrived at the apartment complex.
"Officers observed the subject get back into the vehicle, at which time they began to approach the subject," the department said in its first statement about the shooting. "The subject got back out of the vehicle armed with a firearm and posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers, who subsequently fired their weapon, striking the subject."
On Facebook, a woman who identified herself as Scott's daughter said the police had fired without provocation.
"The police just shot my daddy four times for being black," the woman said moments into a Facebook Live broadcast that lasted about an hour. Later in the broadcast, she learned that her father had died and speculated that the police were planting evidence.
In the September 2013 case involving Ferrell, officials charged a Charlotte police officer with voluntary manslaughter after he fired a dozen rounds at Ferrell, killing him.
The criminal case against the officer, Randall Kerrick, ended in a mistrial, and authorities did not seek to try him again.