South Carolina Cop Michael Slager Charged with Murder for Shooting Unarmed Black Man Walter Scott
A South Carolina police officer was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday after video emerged of him shooting and killing an unarmed man who was running away following a traffic stop.
Walter Scott, 50, died Saturday after North Charleston Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager shot him in the back, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.
Slager, 33, said he feared for his life because Scott took and attempted to use his stun gun during a struggle following the traffic stop. But the video, obtained by the Post and Courier from an anonymous source, shows Scott running away from the officer before being shot in the back. Slager can be seen firing eight shots in rapid succession, beginning when Scott was more than 10 feet (three meters) away from him and fleeing fast. Slager is also seen dropping an object near Scott as the mortally wounded man lay face down on the ground.
The video shows Slager approaching Scott, who was lying on the ground after being shot, and ordering him to put his hands behind his back. Scott is then handcuffed as another officer arrives at the scene. Scott died there.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said during a Tuesday news conference that Slager had made a “bad decision.”
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey said. “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.”
“We’ve got 343 police officers,” Summey added. “This is a bad decision by one of those 343.”
Charleston County sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson told reporters Scott was wanted for arrest on a Family Court warrant.
An attorney for Slager said the Saturday morning incident began as a routine traffic stop when the officer pulled over Scott’s Mercedes-Benz sedan near Remount and Craig roads, citing a broken brake light. Scott, who had a passenger in his car, fled on foot, with Slager in pursuit as the passenger remained in the vehicle. According to the attorney’s statement, Slager drew his Taser in a bid to subdue Scott but the suspect took the stun gun during an ensuing struggle, at which time the officer fired his gun because he “felt threatened.”
According to police documents, Slager spoke into his police radio after shooting Scott, saying: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.”
Anthony Scott, the victim’s brother, said during a Tuesday news conference that the video is essential for understanding what really happened.
“I don’t want to see anyone shot down like my brother was shot down,” said Scott. “I’ve seen the video. If there wasn’t a video, would we know the truth? We do know the truth now.”
L. Chris Lewis, an attorney representing the Scott family, told the Los Angeles Times he believes the video is the only reason Slager has been charged with murder.
“It would have just been the standard story of a police officer giving his version and that would be the end of it,” Lewis said. “In this case, this officer gave his story, and it turned out not to be true.”
“Walter was a nice, good, honest person,” Samuel Scott, the victim’s 55-year-old cousin, told the Post and Courier. “He wasn’t no criminal. He wasn’t young and in the streets. He was a grown man working hard to take care of his family.”
“He’s not a violent guy—never seen him argue with anybody,” Scott added. “I just can’t see it.”
Friends and family described Scott, a Coast Guard veteran, as a man who loved to dance and sing and an avid Dallas Cowboys fan who just proposed to his longtime girlfriend last week.
In a statement, the Justice Department said FBI investigators are working with the State Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina attorney general’s office to determine whether any civil rights violations occurred.
Slager is a five-year veteran of the North Charleston Police Department. He previously served in the US Coast Guard. During his tenure as a police officer, he has been the subject of two complaints, including one filed by a man who claimed Slager shot him with a Taser stun gun for no reason in 2013. An internal investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.
North Charleston, South Carolina’s third-largest city, is home to 104,000 people, nearly half of them black. But Justice Department figures from 2007, the most recently available, show the city’s police force is nearly 80 percent white.
The latest shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer is sure to fuel further fury over what many Americans, especially non-whites, perceive as a national disregard by police for the lives of black men. But Lewis, the Scotts’ attorney, said the case is about something else.
“It’s not about race. It’s about power,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “That officer thought he could just shoot this man. He thought Mr. Scott was expendable.”
State and civil rights leaders condemned the shooting.
“We have many good law enforcement officers in the field. What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina, nor is it reflective of our values or of the way most of our law enforcement officials act, and I assure all South Carolinians that the criminal judicial process will proceed fully,” Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said in a statement. “This is a sad time for everyone in South Carolina, and I urge everyone to work together to help our community heal.”
“After watching the video, the senseless shooting and taking of #WalterScott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable,” Sen, Tim Scott (R) tweeted. “My heart aches for the family and our North Charleston community. I will be watching this case closely.”
“Our sympathies go out to the family of Mr. Scott who must endure the heartache that follows such a tragic event,” state NAACP President Lonnie Randolph said. “The NAACP will remain engaged locally as members of the community attempt to process the details of this incident.”
Randolph continued: “We acknowledge the brave citizen who captured the shooting incident on video then swiftly released it to the public. I cannot underscore enough how important it is for persons who witness alleged crimes to give an account of what they saw.”
James Johnson, president of the local chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, urged the North Charleston community to wait for the conclusion of an investigation before taking to the streets to protest.
“I don’t want this to become another Ferguson,” Johnson told the Post and Courier, referring to the August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson, whose version of events was largely supported by a Justice Department investigation. That probe, however, did uncover a “pattern and practice” of civil rights violations by Ferguson police.
Slager was terminated on Tuesday. If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.