Captured on video by an anonymous source using a smartphone, 33-year-old police officer Michael T. Slager is now facing murder charges after seen firing eight times at a 50-year-old African-American man, Walter L. Scott, who was running away from the officer. The incident occurred on Saturday in North Charleston, South Carolina, specifically after a traffic stop related to a broken taillight on Scott’s Mercedes-Benz sedan.
In the video hosted by the New York Times, Scott is briefly seen wrestling an object out of Slager’s hand onto the grass before running away from the officer. The object in question was initially reported to be a taser. As Scott flees, Slager pulls out his firearm and quickly fires seven times towards Scott’s back, then slightly delays before firing an eighth shot that appears to make Scott fall down. According to Scott’s family, four of the eight bullets struck Scott in the back and a fifth bullet hit Scott’s ear.
At this point in the confrontation, Slager glances at the citizen shooting the video before using his radio to call in the shooting. Slager is seen screaming at Scott to put his hands behind his back before cuffing Scott. Slager then leaves to retrieve the object that fell on the ground earlier, but returns to Scott to toss the same object beside him. At the end of the first video, Slager is seen checking Scott’s pulse. A second follow-up video shows paramedics attempting to help Scott, but the 50-year-old Coast Guard veteran was declared dead at the scene.
Slager’s original account of the incident seems to contradict the video. Slager initially claimed that Scott stole the officer’s taser and ran away with it. If that was the object that Slager casually moved to Scott’s body, that would contradict that claim. In addition, Slager claimed that he “felt threatened” by Scott, even though Scott was attempting to flee rather than attacking Slager.
Due to the video evidence shot by the anonymous citizen, an arrest warrant was issued for Slager and the officer was taken into custody earlier today. Slager was denied bond earlier today, but only because the magistrate judge wasn’t authorized to set a bond for a murder charge. The 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office will be handing the case. If convicted of the murder charge, Slager could face between 30 years to life in prison for his actions over the weekend.
In an effort to spur more citizen journalism, Councilwoman Dorothy Williams of Charleston encouraged citizens to continue filming these type of incidents. It’s possible that this incident could spur an expedited effort to equip all South Carolina police officers with wearable cameras. Of course, video recorded by those types of cameras could potentially be manipulated. One hypothetical option would be to utilize some form of cloud uploading technology for recorded video along with an independent review board that can oversee incidents that get called into question.
Speaking about the shooting, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers said “It’s been a tragic day for many, a tragic day for me. It is not reflective of this entire police department. One does not throw a blanket across the many.” Speaking about the fate of Slager, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. If you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”