In 2014, Justin Gregory Craven, a white, former police officer from South Carolina, chased Ernest Sutterwhite, 68, for 13 miles before stopping him on a dirt road and gunning him down. Sutterwhite, a black male, was unarmed and died shortly afterwards.
On Monday, Craven pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and was indicted on a felony charge, sentenced to three years probation and 80 hours of public service.
Initially, a grand jury refused to indict the North Augusta ex-officer on voluntary manslaughter charges; instead, officers pursued a felony firing charge that carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
On Monday, the charge was dropped as part of Craven’s plea agreement. According to the Aiken Standard newspaper, Craven faced a year in prison with a fine of $1,000.
“We couldn’t ask for a better outcome as far as the sentence is concerned,” Jack Swerling, Craven’s attorney, told reporters. “(He) got probation, no house arrest, and he’s pretty much free to go live his life.”
And while Craven and his attorney might be pleased with the outcome, the sentencing is extremely controversial, happening at a time when law enforcement agencies across the country are under fire for the use of excessive force on minorities. A recent survey revealed that 10,000 people in the United States might be wrongfully convicted of serious crimes on a yearly basis. In the case of Craven, however, many are arguing otherwise.
While Craven had admitted to shooting at Satterwhite’s car, the ex-officer claimed that there had been a struggle at the window.
Meanwhile, the entire incident had been captured on camera from video footage via Craven’s police vehicle’s dashboard camera. In the wake of national incidents such as the Mike Brown and Freddie Gray shootings, the death of minority men at the hands of police officers are not being taken as isolated incidents.