Over the last five years, police in South Carolina have fired their service weapons at over 200 people, and none of them have been convicted of any crimes, found a recent report from The State, a South Carolina newspaper. In several of the cases police were accused of shooting at suspects illegally.
The report, which came out in late March, has particular relevance today, following the arrest of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager on murder charges, after he fatally shot 50-year old Walter Scott in the back as Scott was trying to run away. Graphic video of that shooting led to charges being filed.
Overall, officers fired their weapons at 209 people since 2010, The State's report found. "At least 101 African-American suspects were shot at, of whom 34 died. At least 67 white suspects were shot at; 41 died. Five were either Latino, Asian or Native American; four of them died," it reads. "There are 36 cases where racial information was not available."
The report only looked at closed cases, though the state still has a pending case of an officer-involved shooting. In that case, a Highway Patrol trooper shot an unarmed motorist after stopping him for a seatbelt violation. Video of the shooting shows victim Levar Jones following the officer's instructions to get his wallet before he was shot.
The officer in that case, Sean Groubert, was fired from the Highway Patrol, and is facing a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. The man survived.
In a particularly disputed case The State reviewed, police in Sumpter shot and killed Aaron Jacobs, 25, in 2010.
An autopsy showed Jacobs was shot twice in the back of the head and twice in the back, according to published accounts. Authorities fought the release of the autopsy all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court, which later ruled autopsies no longer are public records.
Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest Finney III exonerated the officer, saying the evidence did not substantiate a criminal charge. Critics said the public was cut off from information critical to understanding exactly what happened.
Out of the 209 cases that The State reviewed for its report, writers said that "only in one instance did a prosecutor, Chrissy Adams, the solicitor in Anderson and Oconee counties, express concern about an officer’s conduct."
In that case, the suspect's attempted murder charge was dropped by prosecutors, who said the officer's account of events was not credible, citing his extensive internal affairs investigations. Still, the officer was not prosecuted, The State reports.
“[The officer's] actions, although concerning, do not rise to the level of criminal activity,” Adams wrote to SLED when she exonerated him in 2014.
Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state agency tasked with investigating Scott's murder, told The State that he worries about how citizens resist officer commands, which can sometimes lead to the shootings.
“The bottom line,” Keel said, “is that as long as individuals continue to not follow the instructions of law enforcement … there’s going to continue to be these confrontations. The public has to understand to be more compliant.”
But one of the most notorious exonerations came from an elderly man reaching for his cane, which an officer mistook for a shotgun. Video of the incident is seen below, in which the officer can be heard pleading to God for forgiveness, when he realizes he made a mistake in judgement.
In addition to the South Carolina Law Enforcemnt Division, Scott's case is being investigated by the Justice Department and the FBI.
His family has said it plans to file a civil lawsuit.
And regardless of the lack of convictions in South Carolina for police related shootings, family members are urging the community to remain calm and "“let the justice process run its course," rather than fomenting unrest like what the nation watched unfold in Ferguson, Mo.
“I want to see more accountability in United States, and I don’t want to see any more violence,” Scott's older brother Anthony told CNN. “Change can come over America where no other family will have to suffer the way my family is suffering right now.”
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.