A white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina has been charged with murder after video emerged of him shooting an unarmed black man in the back while he was trying to run away, reports the Charleston Post and Courier. The two had been involved in a scuffle.
The man, 50-year-old Walter Scott, died Saturday after Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager, 33, shot at him eight times, though it is not immediately clear how many shots hit him. Scott had been stopped for a broken tail light, and he ran from police "because he owed child support," said his family, according to New York Times reporter Matt Apuzzo.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Keith Summey said that the officer's “bad decision” had led to his arrest on the charge of murder.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey said about the immediate jailing of the officer during a press conference, according to the Post and Courier. “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.”
In South Carolina, murder carries a penalty of up to 30 years to life in prison, or the death penalty, said the state agency in charge of the investigation.
The shooting and indictment come at a time where race and policing tactics have been capapulted into the national spotlight, spurred by the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and continued with more questionable shootings such as Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Charly "Africa" Leundeu Keunang in Los Angeles— all people of color.
Ed Bryant, president of the North Charleston chapter of the NAACP, had not seen the video yet, but he was shocked at its description, according to the Post and Courier.
“If he was running away, how does that pose the need for deadly force?” Bryant told the Post and Courier. “If he’s leaving, they should just pursue him. But shooting him? That’s another story.”
North Charleston is the third largest city in South Carolina, and its population is 47 percent black, and about 37 percent white, reported the New York Times.
He urged openness from authorities.
A description of the video, which was released to the Post and Courier and the New York Times on Tuesday, highlights discrepancies between initial police reports, and what is shown on the video. From the Times:
The shooting unfolded after Officer Slager stopped a Mercedes-Benz with a broken taillight, according to police reports. The driver, Walter L. Scott, 50, ran away, and Officer Slager chased him into a grassy lot that abuts a muffler shop. He fired his Taser, an electronic stun gun, but it did not stop Mr. Scott, according to police reports.
Moments later, Officer Slager reported on his radio, “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” according to police reports.
But the video, which was taken by a bystander and provided to The New York Times by Mr. Scott’s lawyer, presents a different account. The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.
Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.
Before the video was released, Officer Slager's attorney claimed that he felt threatened by Scott when he let off the shots. After the video was released, that attorney told the Post And Courier he was no longer representing the officer.
The Times reports that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state’s criminal investigative body, is investigating the shooting.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.