In a number of new developments in the story, police officer Michael Slager, who has been fired from the North Charleston police force, appeared in court today by videoconference wearing a jail uniform after a judge denied him bail last night. Meanwhile the chief of the force, Eddie Driggers, said he was “sickened” by what he saw on the video.
“I have watched the video and I was sickened by what I saw,” Driggers said during a news conference that the New York Times described as “emotional and often chaotic,” featuring protesters shouting and interrupting the speakers.
“And I have not watched it since,” Driggers said.
Asked whether the proper protocols were followed after the shooting, Chief Driggers said, “Obviously not.”
While protesters gathered outside City Hall, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said he had issued an executive order that all of the officers start wearing body cameras. Summey said the city has a grant to supply 101 body cameras for the officers, with an additional 150 being ordered to outfit every patrol officer. Summey said he wanted to try to calm the community, and with Driggers had personally visited the family of Walter Scott, the 50-year-old mad killed by Slager after a routine traffic stop.
“We let them know how we felt about their loss, and how bad it was,” the mayor said, adding that the city would provide a police escort at the funeral.
In an appearance on the “Today” show Wednesday morning, Scott’s father, Walter Scott Sr., said that without the video, the officer would never have been charged with murder.
“It would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others,” the father said. “When I saw it, I fell to my feet and my heart was broken.”
During his court appearance, Slager said he was a married father of two stepchildren. He disclosed that his wife was expecting another child and he lived near the North Charleston neighborhood where the shooting took place. City officials said his wife would be able to keep health insurance during her pregnancy, which is in the eighth month.
In a surprisingly quick move, officials in North Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday charged police officer Michael T. Slager, 33, with murder after viewing a bystander’s video showing Slager shooting an unarmed Black man in the back on Saturday as he tried to run away.
Walter L. Scott, 50, died at the scene after being hit five times—three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear, with at least one bullet entering his heart—according to the Scott family lawyer, Chris Stewart, based on information he got from the coroner.
It was a stunning development because of its rarity—officers almost never get charged for killing civilians, particularly when they claim they feared for their life, as Slager did.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who is white, said during a news conference yesterday evening. “And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”
Slager, who served in the Coast Guard before joining the force five years ago, according to the New York Times, said he had feared for his life because he said Scott had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop.
But the video taken by a bystander appears to debunk those claims, showing Scott running away with what appear to be wires from the stun gun protruding from his back and quickly being taken down when Slager fired eight shots at his retreating form.
As pointed out by the Times, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an officer may use deadly force against a fleeing suspect only when there is probable cause that the suspect “poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
That was clearly not the case with Scott.
Slager stopped Scott’s Mercedes-Benz because of a broken taillight, according to police reports. But Scott tried to run away. Slager chased him into an abandoned lot next to an Advance Auto Parts store. He fired his Taser at Scott, but it apparently didn’t work, leading to a scuffle.
After he fired off the bullets, Slager said on his radio: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.”
But the video indicates that was likely not the truth. The video shows Slager retrieving what appears to be the Taser at the spot where the scuffle occurred and then tossing it next to Scott’s body, apparently to give the impression that Scott was in possession of the Taser when he was shot.
On Monday, after the shooting but before the bystander video surfaced, David Aylor, a lawyer representing Slager, released a statement saying Slager believes he properly followed all procedures and policies before resorting to deadly force.
“When confronted, Officer Slager reached for his Taser — as trained by the department — and then a struggle ensued,” Aylor said. “The driver tried to overpower Officer Slager in an effort to take his Taser.”
The police report also says officers performed CPR and delivered first aid to Scott, but on the video Slager and other officers who arrive do not offer him any aid for many long minutes. The only thing Slager does, according to the video, is yell at the fallen man to put his hands behind his back. When Scott, who is lying facedown on the ground, doesn’t move, Slager cuffs Scott’s hands behind his back.
Sadly, Scott was trying to flee because of back child support, according to Stewart, the family lawyer.
“He has four children; he doesn’t have some type of big violent past or arrest record,” said Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Mr. Scott’s family. “He had a job; he was engaged. He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for back child support.”
As pointed out by the Post and Courier, Scott had been arrested 10 times, mostly for failure to appear for court hearings and to pay child support. In 1987, his first arrest was on an assault and battery charge.
With a population of about 100,000, North Charleston is about 47 percent Black and 37 percent white. In 2007, according to Justice Department data, the police department was 80 percent white. More recent data isn’t available, according to the Times.
The shooting is being investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, in addition to the FBI and the Justice Department, according to published reports.
The Scott killing joins a string of other high-profile murders of civilians caught on video by bystanders with cellphones or on police body cameras. In addition to Eric Garner in Staten Island, in January, prosecutors in Albuquerque charged two police officers with murder for shooting a homeless man in a confrontation that was captured by an officer’s body camera. Video also captured police in Los Angeles shooting a homeless man. And in Cleveland, surveillance cameras captured police shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice.