At least two people at Wednesday night's protest in Charlotte told BuzzFeed News that they witnessed police shoot rubber bullets into the crowd, one of which hit and killed a protester.
The City of Charlotte on Wednesday released a statement on Twitter saying that the protester was killed, and that the shooting was "civilian on civilian," and that Charlotte police "did not fire shot." Later they corrected the statement, saying the shooting was not fatal, but that the protester was on "life support" and "in critical condition." Justin Carr, 26, then died Thursday evening.
Two people on social media disputed that account. Then, in a press conference Thursday, Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney said that there was "a lot of information about who did that shooting," and that his department was investigating the incident to "find the truth, the absolute truth, as best as it can show us."
James Tyson, 31, told BuzzFeed News he helped care for the man when he was shot. "Not only did I never hear a gunshot, I never saw a gun," he said. "I saw [police] shooting rubber bullets, I saw him go down. I witnessed the wound. I was two feet from his face."
The shooting occurred during the second night of violent protests in response to the police shooting death of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday.
Tyson said that police shot rubber bullets into the crowd outside the Omni Hotel, where Putney confirmed the wounded man was found.
A video filmed by Tyson captures a clicking sound that he said was rubber bullets being fired and police in riot gear pushing toward the crowd from the hotel. Tyson said the video cuts out just before the protester was shot.
"I observed no violent behavior or vandalism prior to this moment," Tyson said. No one was throwing anything or breaking anything, he added, though in his video it seems as if some people may have been pounding on the glass of the hotel.
It wasn't until the protester was shot that the crowd turned violent, he said.
The protesters had converged around the Omni Hotel and the riot police retreated inside, Tyson said. About five minutes later, police pushed their way back out of the hotel and "formed a hard blockade" and began firing a "barrage of rubber bullets" into the crowd from "maybe five, ten feet" from the protesters, he said.
"As soon as they started firing, ... that's when I saw the guy go down," Tyson told BuzzFeed News. "He took about five steps backwards to the side and then he fell, and people all of a sudden converged around him."
Tyson, who had brought his medic bag with him to the protest, used "surgical pads and gauze" to help stop the bleeding while someone else kept "compression on the wound," and another person stabilized the protester's neck.
Todd Zimmer, 28, wrote on Facebook that he was present when the protester was shot, alongside an image of a puddle of blood on the ground:
I was there when CMPD shot a protestor in the head tonight. I am convinced that police shot this person with a rubber bullet or a tear gas canister.
I stood over the injured person while folks tried to revive them, tried to keep folks back. I have captured video of police firing into the crowd seconds before the person fell.
I didn't want to post about this, but my city is lying about what happened tonight. Let the record show.
"He was bleeding profusely out of the left side of head, from what I could tell it looked like he was hit on the left side of his temple," Tyson described. "There was maybe two liters of blood on the pavement already by the time I got to the scene. He muttered a couple of things when I first got there, and then he started to trail off into some other place." Tyson said he could not understand what the man was saying.
A short while later firefighter came and took the wounded man away without a stretcher, Tyson said. They were not stabilizing his spine, he said, and carried him out by his arms and legs.
Warning: This video is graphic
Crystal Alysia Graham was also in the vicinity of the wounded man. She told BuzzFeed News that people were surrounding the police outside the hotel when "shots of some kind were fired."
When she heard them she ran across the street and hid behind a car. "There were too many people for me to see who got shot or if it was a real gun," she said. People ran down the streets screaming that someone had been killed. She said police didn't let her near the area where the man was shot for around 20 minutes, while they waited fro EMT to show up.
Eddie Thomas, 41, a public defender who was nearby at the time the protester was hurt, said that there was “no way” the bangs the crowd heard were gunshots. “I know gunshots, I’ve heard gunshots, those were not gunshots.”
Thomas said that before the man was wounded the crowd had been peaceful. He, like Tyson, said that it was only once the police in riot gear began pushing the crowd back that the mood changed.
He then heard a few loud, spaced out bangs and ran. He saw the man on the ground, “blood was pouring from the back of his head all over the concrete, his eyes were rolling into the back of his head.”
In an article published by The Daily Beast , Ryan James — who was present at the protest but is not a regular contributor to the site — claimed that he saw "a civilian [fire] a pistol indiscriminately into a crowd of dozens outside the hotel."
He said around 8:30 pm a "black man [shot] another black man for no apparent reason," then "turned and ran."
"Standing about 10 yards away, I looked down the barrel of a pistol," James wrote. He said the shooter was "standing at the intersection of East Trade and South College streets with the weapon still aimed. He turned and ran. Emergency personnel arrived about five minutes later."
A video included in the article shows the immediate aftermath of the man being wounded, but it does not show the shooting itself.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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