It's yet to be revealed whether police officers in Charlotte, North Carolina, could discern that Keith Lamont Scott, the black man they killed on Sept. 20, had a mental disability.
But what is clear from video footage released by Scott's family and by police is that the pleas of Rakeyia Scott, the man's wife, fell on deaf ears. "Don't shoot him! Don't shoot him! He didn't do anything," Rakeyia yells at officers, as they shout at him to drop a gun.
"He has a [traumatic brain injury]," she continues to yell. "He's not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine." Moments later, an officer shoots the man multiple times.
Although the effects of a traumatic brain injury range in severity, it's entirely possible that Keith Scott, who was badly injured in a motorcycle accident last year, was unable to respond to commands shouted by officers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the Associated Press reported.
Doctors interviewed by the AP said if Scott had to relearn how to walk and talk, as his family, friends and neighbors have claimed, his injury likely permanently impaired his brain function. A TBI "can lead to devastating changes in behavior, impulse control and really, any cognitive function," Jeffrey Kutcher, director of the sports neurology clinic at the CORE Institute in Brighton, Michigan, said in an interview.
Kutcher, who has directed the National Basketball Association's concussion program, said that the periodic "zoning-out" that Scott's friends have described to media could be a direct effect of the medications he takes as part of treatment. "Not having an appropriate response in a stressful, chaotic event is certainly a potential effect of a TBI," he added.
Police have said that officers had been executing an arrest warrant for someone else, before they confronted Scott in the parking lot of a Charlotte apartment complex. The encounter escalated to officers demanding Scott exit the vehicle he had been sitting in and to drop a gun he allegedly held before officers opened fire. The fatal shooting, yet another death of an African-American man in the U.S., sparked days of protests and civil unrest in Charlotte in September.
Dr. David Brody, a neurology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the AP that orders shouted by police with their weapons drawn don't register with victims of a TBI the way they do for people without that particular injury. However, he said, "there's no way a patient with a TBI who doesn't know the difference between right and wrong should own a gun or drive a car."
But without knowing the particulars of Scott's injury, officers likely did what they were trained to do when they engage someone they believe poses a threat. That's why Rakeyia Scott's pleas to the officers before they shot her husband are significant to the man's family, who questioned whether the officers' use of lethal force was necessary.
After the shots were fired, Scott's pleas quickly turned to statements of disbelief: "Did you shoot him? He better not be fucking dead ... I know that much! He better not be dead!"