Officials: North Charleston officer to face murder charge after video shows him shooting man in back

A still image shows the shooting Saturday. (PROVIDED)

A video that shows a North Charleston police officer shooting at 50-year-old Walter Scott’s back at least eight times as he ran away resulted in the lawman’s arrest Tuesday, officials said.

The development came as the State Law Enforcement Division looked into whether Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager, 33, acted lawfully when he shot Scott to death.

Police Chief Eddie Driggers said Tuesday that Slager had been arrested.

Summey said Slager’s actions were not representative of the entire police force.

“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey said. “When you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or a citizen on the street, you have to live with that decision.”

The footage, filmed by an anonymous bystander, shows the end of the confrontation between the two on Saturday after Scott, who had a warrant out for his arrest, ran from a traffic stop. It was the first piece of evidence that could contradict a statement that Slager released to the public through his attorney.

SLED spokesman Thom Berry said Tuesday that he could not confirm whether the agency has the video.

“All I can say is that our investigation is continuing,” Berry said, “and it would be inappropriate for us to discuss any specifics at this time.”

Attorney David Aylor, who released a statement on Slager’s behalf earlier this week, said Tuesday that he wasn’t representing the officer anymore.

“I’m no longer involved in form or fashion,” Aylor said.

Slager has said through Aylor that Scott had wrested his Taser from him during a struggle. The officer felt threatened when he fired, his attorney said.

Deputy Coroner Brittney Martin was not immediately available Tuesday to confirm how many times Scott was hit.

At the time, Scott was wanted for arrest on a Family Court warrant, Charleston County sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson said Tuesday.

He had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. The only accusation of violence against Scott during his lifetime came through a 1987 assault and battery charge, but the disposition of that charge was not immediately known.

Public sentiment

The footage comes amid a discussion about race and policing in the U.S.

Scott was black. Slager is white.

The nationwide conversation was sparked by the fatal shooting in August of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was unarmed at the time, but witnesses said he got into a struggle with Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, and was shot during the scuffle.

Though a grand jury did not find any reason to indict Wilson, the shooting ignited protests, some of which turned violent. A “black lives matter” movement inspired talk about whether police nationwide too quickly resort to deadly force against black men.

During that wave of public sentiment that prompted rallies in the Charleston area, South Carolina Trooper Sean Groubert, who is white, was arrested for shooting Levar Jones, a black man who had reached into his pickup for his driver’s license during a September traffic stop in Columbia. Groubert faces a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and the state settled a lawsuit by Jones for $300,000.

The development in Scott’s death also came on the same day when SLED arrested a North Augusta police officer in the Feb. 9, 2014, shooting death of Ernest Satterwhite. The officer, 25-year-old Justin Gregory Craven, faces a count of discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, a felony charge punishable with up to 10 years in prison.

Community leaders in North Charleston have stressed the need for calm in the aftermath of Scott’s death. The North Charleston Police Department has fought accusations in past years that aggressive enforcement tactics have unfairly targeted poor, black communities.

Slager, a former Coast Guardsman, served for more than five years with the department without being disciplined, his attorney said.

Two people filed complaints against Slager during his time with the force, including one man who said the policeman shot him with a Taser for no reason in September 2013. Internal investigators, though, exonerated the officer of any wrongdoing.

Ed Bryant, the president of the North Charleston chapter of the NAACP, was taken aback by a description of the video. He had not seen it, he said.

But he encouraged investigators and prosecutors to pursue justice in Scott’s death and urge openness from the authorities.

“If he was running away, how does that pose the need for deadly force?” Bryant said. “If he’s leaving, they should just pursue him. But shooting him? That’s another story.”

Pastor Thomas Dixon said that he has not yet seen the video, but that he and other community activists are preparing for its release and trying to work out a plan.

“We do believe it’s necessary to expect that there may be some sort of community reaction,” he said.

Dixon added that he is concerned about outsiders coming into the community to incite violence and rallies. He said the outcry of anger so often ends up “tearing down our communities,” and emotions should be diverted to something more constructive than violence.

“Good people get caught up with crazy people,” he said. “The smart reaction is to just gather and peacefully let your voice be heard without any foolishness or craziness.”

Dwight James, executive director of the S.C. State Conference of the NAACP, said leaders were gathering in Columbia on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the case.

James said he was looking forward to all the facts coming out.

“We’re in touch with law enforcement on multiple levels,” he said. “The last feedback I got was that (the officer) was not talking.”

Officer’s account

Slager said earlier this week in a statement from his attorney at the time that his encounter with Scott had started Saturday morning as a routine traffic stop.

His department said he pulled over Scott’s Mercedes-Benz sedan near Remount and Craig roads because it had a broken brake light. But at some point, Scott ran away with Slager in pursuit on foot. Scott’s passenger stayed with the Mercedes.

During the foot chase, Scott confronted Slager, according to the statement from the officer’s lawyer. Slager got out his Taser to subdue the man, but Scott took the device during a struggle, the statement said. That’s when the officer fired at Scott several times because he “felt threatened,” it added.

At the request of his client, Aylor said he could not answer any questions about Slager’s account.

Glenn Smith and Christina Elmore contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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