Charlotte (AFP) - Investigators in Charlotte faced mounting pressure Friday to release footage of the fatal police shooting of an African-American man, after protesters defied a curfew and marched through the North Carolina city's streets for a third straight night.
The death Tuesday of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was the latest in a seemingly steady string of police-involved killings of black men that have fueled outrage across America.
The victim's family -- who like many in Charlotte dispute the police assertion that Scott was armed -- have viewed police video of his shooting and are leading calls for it to be made public.
"I do believe the video should be released," Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said at a press conference. But she stressed it should not be immediate, and that the timing of the release would be crucial.
"When there are key pieces of evidence still being gathered, if one piece is released early it can jeopardize the integrity of that investigation," she added.
Police here are refusing so far to release the body-cam and dash-mounted video, arguing among things that this might interfere with a parallel state probe into the incident.
"If I were to put it out indiscriminately and it doesn't give you good context, it can inflame the situation and make it even worse," argued Charlotte police chief Kerr Putney.
"It will exacerbate the backlash. It will increase the distrust," he added.
- No 'panacea' -
"I know the expectation that video footage can be the panacea, and I can tell you that is not quite the case."
Charlotte's handling of the case stands in stark contrast to a similar police shooting last Friday involving an African-American man in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
There, the video has been released and the white officer involved has already been charged with first degree manslaughter.
In Charlotte, the officer identified as having shot Scott, Brentley Vinson, is black.
Hundreds of people gathered on Charlotte's streets Thursday night for passionate but largely peaceful protests. Several times the crowd broke into chants of "Release the tapes!"
North Carolina's longtime attorney general, Roy Cooper, came out Friday in favor of just that, saying it was important to "continue in the pursuit of the truth" and in building trust, while improving transparency.
"One step toward meeting both goals is for the videos in this case to be released to the public."
One risk, the mayor said, is that if witnesses to the shooting see the video they might change their account of what happened.
City hall is in talks with investigators and "I think it is only a matter of time" before the video is released, Roberts told CNN.
Joining the appeal for the release were the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, the US black community's main civil rights organization.
Scott was shot and killed in an apartment complex parking lot during an encounter with police officers searching for another person wanted for arrest.
Police say Scott was armed with a handgun. His family says he was holding a book.
No gun is visible in the video, which shows Scott stepping backward when he was shot, one of the family lawyers told CNN.
"His hands are down by his side. He is acting calm," Justin Bamberg said. "You do see something in his hand, but it's impossible to make out from the video what it is."
The mayor said she has seen two videos of the incident and agreed there was something in Scott's hand.
Asked if it was a gun, Roberts said "the visual clarity made those videos inconclusive."
Police chief Putney has said a handgun was recovered at the scene, and that no book was found, contradicting the family's assertion.
He said the video footage does not provide "absolute definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun," but he stressed that the footage indicates the officer was justified in shooting Scott.
"The officer perceived his failure to comply with commands, failure to drop the weapon and facing the officers as an imminent threat," Putney said on Fox News.
- Curfew -
North Carolina's governor has declared a state of emergency in Charlotte, and several hundred National Guard troops and highway police officers were deployed to reinforce local police protecting city infrastructure and businesses.
Roberts said a midnight curfew in Charlotte will remain in effect Friday night.
In Thursday's protests, hundreds of people marched to the city police station carrying signs saying "Stop killing us" and "Resistance is beautiful." But the atmosphere was far calmer than the previous two nights.
Several hundred protesters remained on the street after curfew, but security forces took a hands off approach and did not enforce the restriction.
Meanwhile Putney said police have arrested a suspect in the killing of protester Justin Carr, who was shot during Wednesday night's unrest in Charlotte.