The New York Times reports that Officer Michael T. Slager, 33, was arrested for murder after a video of the incident surfaced. The video, which was recorded by a bystander with a smartphone camera and given to the New York Times by the victim’s family lawyer, shows Slager confronting Walter L. Scott, 50, in a vacant lot after having pulled him over for a broken taillight.
The footage shows the two men briefly confronting each other before Slager pulled out his taser gun and used it against Scott. The taser, however, didn’t prevent Scott from running away. Slager then pulled out his pistol and fired at Scott eight times before Scott dropped to the ground. After firing the shots, Slager ran toward the victim and quickly handcuffed him.
The video also shows additional police officers arriving at the scene minutes after the shooting. Though the officers checked Scott’s vital signs and brought a medical kit, none of them performed CPR or other first aid procedures, despite the police report’s claim that they did.
According to the police reports, Slager claims to have feared for his life after Scott allegedly reached for Slager’s stun gun. However, the footage has provided enough evidence for the state to press murder charges against him. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced the charges in a press conference yesterday.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey told reporters. “And if you make a bad decision, I don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”
The shooting is the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving police officers using excessive force against African-American men and adolescents. Last year’s shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer, for example, sparked violent protests throughout the city. Brown’s death and similar cases in recent years have incited acrimonious debate across the country about abusive police tactics such as excessive force and racial profiling, particularly against African-American men at the hands of white police officers.
North Charleston itself has a large African-American population. Nearly 47% of residents are black, compared to the 37% who are white. However, the North Charleston Police Department is 80% white, according to a Justice Department report in 2007, the latest of its kind. In 2012, there were 780,000 police officers in the United States.
Scott’s family stated that they intend to file a civil lawsuit against Slager, according to USA Today.
Slager “felt like he could get away with just shooting someone that many times in the back,” said L. Chris Stewart, one of the attorneys representing the Scott family.
NBC News reports that Slager, a Coast Guard veteran and a member of the force for five years, is currently being held without bond in the Charleston County Jail.
The coroner’s office claims that Scott was struck five times, including three times in the back, with at least one bullet entering the heart. The coroner has declined to make the report available to the public, so it is currently unknown whether Scott died immediately or not.
Scott did have a criminal record. He had been arrested 10 times for mostly non-violent offences such as failing to pay for child support and neglecting to show up to court hearings. His family believes that he may have fled from Slager because he owed child support.
“He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for back child support,” Steward said.
Scott leaves behind four children and a fiancee.