The murder case of Michael Slager—the former North Charleston, S.C. police officer indicted for the murder of Walter Scott—has taken an interesting turn. This, as the lawyers for the defense attempt to get their client out of jail by criminalizing the victim, and claiming the public jumped to the wrong conclusions.
On April 4, 2015, Slager shot a fleeing Scott in the back eight times, following a traffic stop in which the victim was pulled over for a broken taillight. The incident was recorded by a bystander and the officer was indicted in June for murder. However, Slager’s defense team now says they are prepared to offer new evidence at his bond hearing, including stills of the cell phone video showing Scott on top of Slager.
“You need to go back to the incident scene and you need to see where the original stop was and you need to see where the final events took place,” said Slager’s attorney, Andy Savage, to CBS News.
The defense claims there was a scuffle, and that Scott may have been armed. The defense also alleges that Scott’s DNA was on the officer’s Taser, and gun residue was on Scott’s hands. They also allege that there was blood on Slager’s clothing, abrasions on his knee, and that his finger was injured.
The lawyers believe Scott took the Taser from the officer and fired twice, but missed because he did not know how to operate the weapon. Savage claims Slager fired “because he felt threatened” by Scott’s “irrational behavior” and had no way of knowing whether Scott was unarmed because there had been no opportunity to give Scott a pat down.
“He sees irrational behavior of a suspect, at that time,” the lawyer added. “He sees a guy who’s committed four felonies in the last minute and a half — violently resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, robbing the police officer of his weapon Taser, and using that Taser in attempt to harm him. Four felonies in the last 30-45 seconds.”
Savage told NBC News his client is sorry about what happened.
“Four months later, you can sit down with your cold beer and your TV show and watch the video and say, ‘Ah, he wasn’t armed,'” Savage said. “Well, good for you. Would you have known that at the time that the officer had to make a life-and-death decision? The guy has violently attacked him, violently tried to use the Taser against him.”
Scott family attorney, Chris Stewart, told NBC News that what truly matters in the case is already caught on tape.
“Everything else we’ve seen is distraction information, trying to make people think whatever transpired before is relevant and important,” Stewart said. “But it’s not.”
In addition, court documents reveal that two lieutenants and the police chief stated that Slager told them Scott had taken his Taser and pointed it at him during a scuffle. The defense will also point to a toxicology report indicating the presence of cocaine in Scott’s system.
However, the report says the level of cocaine in Scott’s blood was 36 nanograms per milliliter, far below the average level for impaired drivers, which is about 87 nanograms per milliliter. The report also said Scott had benzoylecgonine, a byproduct of cocaine metabolism in his system, and cocaethylene, which forms when cocaine and alcohol are in the bloodstream at the same time. In recent cases involving Black people killed in police custody–such as Sandra Bland and Michael Brown–the alleged presence of drugs such as marijuana in the blood has been used to discredit the victims.
Meanwhile, the video raises some serious questions, posing a challenge for Slager’s defense. In addition to the video showing Slager shooting Scott—who was apparently unarmed as he fled–it appears the officer dropped the Taser next to Scott’s body. This is not the first time that the video of an act of police violence has been contested, and the public is asked whether they will believe their lying eyes.
For example, the videotaped beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers in 1991 did not secure a conviction in the first trial of the officers. Nor did the video of police shooting 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in November 2014 lead to an indictment of the offending officer. However, it is expected that a grand jury will be empaneled to decide if criminal charges should be brought in the Rice case.
If convicted for the murder of Scott, Slager faces 30 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole.