Shooting of Walter Scott
Screenshot of phone video taken by eyewitness Feidin Santana, showing Officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott
|Time||9:30 a.m. (EDT)|
|Date||April 4, 2015|
|Location||North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.|
|Filmed by||Feidin Santana|
|Charges||Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law (pled guilty); obstruction of justice, use of a firearm during a crime of violence (federal charges, dropped in plea deal); murder (state charge, dropped in plea deal)|
The shooting of Walter Scott occurred on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina, following a daytime traffic stop for a non-functioning brake light. Scott, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. The race difference led many to believe that the shooting was racially motivated, generating a widespread controversy. Slager was charged with murder after a video surfaced which showed him shooting Scott from behind while Scott was fleeing, and which contradicted his police report.
The case was independently investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina, and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are conducting their own investigations.
In May 2016, Slager was indicted on federal charges including violation of Scott's civil rights and obstruction of justice.
On May 2, 2017, in a plea agreement, Slager pled guilty to federal charges of civil rights violations. In return for his guilty plea, murder charges from the state will be dropped. The guilty plea carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Walter Lamar Scott[note 1] (February 9, 1965 – April 4, 2015), a 50-year-old black man, was a forklift operator, studying massage therapy. Scott previously served two years in the U.S. Coast Guard before being given a general discharge in 1986 for a drug-related incident.
Michael Thomas Slager (born November 14, 1981), 33 years old at the time of the incident, served in the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD) for five years and five months prior to the shooting. Before becoming a police officer, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Slager was named in a police complaint in 2013 for allegedly using a Taser on a man without cause. Slager was cleared by the police department over the incident; the victim and several witnesses said they were not interviewed. Following the Scott killing, North Charleston police stated they would re-review the 2013 complaint. Slager was named in a second tasing-without-cause complaint following an August 2014 police stop. A complaint filed in January 2015 resulted in Slager being cited for failing to file a report.
Local residents have complained that police activity in North Charleston includes the harassment and racial profiling of African Americans, including frequent use of Tasers without cause. In North Charleston, whites make up 37% of the population, but the police department is 80% white.
At 9:30 a.m., April 4, 2015, in the parking lot of an auto parts store at 1945 Remount Road, Slager stopped Scott for a non-functioning third brake light. Scott was driving a 1991 Mercedes, and, according to his brother, was headed to the auto parts store when he was stopped. The video from Slager's dashcam shows him approaching Scott's car, speaking to Scott, and then returning to his patrol car. Scott exited his car and fled with Slager giving chase on foot.
Slager pursued Scott. Slager then fired both of his Taser cartridges. He continued to pursue Scott into a lot behind a pawn shop at 5654 Rivers Avenue, and the two became involved in a physical altercation. Scott "resisted arrest". Slager then fired his Taser, hitting Scott. Scott fled, and Slager drew his handgun, firing eight rounds at him from behind. The coroner's report stated that Scott was struck a total of five times: three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks, and once on one of his ears. During Slager's state trial, forensic pathologist Lee Marie Tormos testified that the fatal wound was caused by a bullet that entered Scott's back and struck his lungs and heart. Official autopsy reports have not been released.
Immediately following the shooting, Slager radioed a dispatcher, stating, "Shots fired and the subject is down. He grabbed my Taser."
When Slager fired his gun, Scott was approximately 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 m) away and fleeing. In the report of the shooting filed before the video surfaced, Slager said he had feared for his life because Scott had taken his Taser, and that he shot Scott because he "felt threatened".
A toxicology report showed that Scott had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death. The level of cocaine was less than half the average amount for "typical impaired drivers", according to the report. Tormos testified that Scott did not test positive for alcohol.
An eyewitness to the shooting, Feidin Santana, recorded video of the incident on his phone. At first Santana did not share the video out of fear of retribution, but he became angered when the police report differed from his view of the events. In an interview on MSNBC, Santana said, "I felt that my life, with this information, might be in danger. I thought about erasing the video and just getting out of the community, you know Charleston, and living some place else." The video was subsequently shared with Scott's family through an activist of Black Lives Matter, and later with the news media.
Santana said that after a struggle in which Slager deployed his Taser, Scott was "just trying to get away from the Taser," and that before he started recording, he observed that Slager "had control of the situation". In an interview on The Today Show, Santana said Scott "never grabbed the Taser of the police. He never got the Taser."
After Scott was shot and had dropped to the ground, Slager approached him, repeatedly instructed him to place his hands behind his back, and handcuffed him, leaving him face down on the ground. Although police reports stated that officers performed CPR on Scott, no such action is visible on the video. The video shows that Slager ran back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picked something up off the ground. Moments later, he dropped the object, possibly the Taser, beside Scott's body.
There have been calls for the prosecution of Clarence Habersham, the second officer seen in the video, for an attempted cover-up with allegations that he made false statements and deliberately left facts out of his report in an attempt to protect Slager. Habersham has also been criticized for stating that he attempted to render aid to the victim by applying pressure to the gunshot wounds despite no such indication in the video.
Slager's original lawyer, David Aylor, withdrew as counsel within hours of the release of the video. When questioned in an interview, Aylor declined to give a reason for his withdrawal, citing attorney–client privilege. Aylor issued the following statement on his official website "Today, I withdrew my representation of Michael Slager. This is a terrible tragedy that has impacted our community."
On April 8, the North Charleston city manager announced that the NCPD had fired Slager but would continue to pay for his health insurance because his wife was pregnant. The town's mayor, Keith Summey, said they had ordered an additional 150 body cameras, enough that one could be worn by every police officer.
A GoFundMe campaign was started to raise money for Slager's defense, but it was quickly shut down by the site. Citing privacy concerns, they declined to go into detail about why the campaign was canceled, saying only that it was "due to a violation of our terms and conditions".
Scott's killing further fueled a national conversation around race and policing. It has been connected to similar events in Missouri, New York, and elsewhere. The Black Lives Matter movement protested Scott's death.
A bill in the South Carolina state house, designed to equip more police officers with body cameras, was renamed for Scott. The Senate set aside $3.4 million to fund it, enough to buy 2,000 cameras for South Carolina officers.
The use of deadly force by law enforcement in the United States is subject to the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner decision, which ruled that when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless "the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others".
Separate investigations are being conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney in South Carolina, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).
State murder chargeEdit
After the police department reviewed the video, Slager was arrested on April 7 and charged with murder. On June 8, a South Carolina grand jury indicted Slager on the murder charge.[note 2] If convicted, he would face between 30 years and life in prison without the possibility of parole. The murder charge was the only charge presented to the grand jury.
On January 4, 2016, after being held without bail for almost nine months, Slager was released on $500,000 bond. He was confined to house arrest until the trial, which began October 31, 2016. On December 5, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury became deadlocked with 11 of the 12 jurors favoring a conviction. A retrial is scheduled to begin in August 2017.
As a result of Slager's guilt plea, state charges were not filed (see federal charges for further)..
On May 11, 2016, Slager was indicted on federal charges of violating Scott’s civil rights and unlawfully using a weapon during the commission of a crime. In addition, he was charged with obstruction of justice as a result of his statement to state investigators that Scott was moving toward him with the Taser when he shot him. Slager has pleaded not guilty in the case, and a trial is scheduled to begin in May 2017. Slager faces up to life in prison if convicted.
On May 2, 2017, Slager pleaded guilty to 18 U.S.C. § 242, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law as part of a plea agreement, which has a potential maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. By agreeing to the guilty plea, the accused charges of obstructing justice, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence will be dismissed. In addition, no further charges can be filed from the facts of the indictment.
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Michael Slager is charged in the April 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, who fled from a traffic stop and resisted arrest.
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“If Walter Scott had not resisted arrest, he wouldn’t have been shot. He paid the extreme consequence for his conduct. He lost his life for his foolishness,” she acknowledged. But Slager is on trial for murder because of what he did after Scott broke away from the officer, she said.
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