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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

By James Queally and David Zucchino , Los Angeles Times (TNS)

DURHAM, N.C. — A South Carolina police officer was charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man after police obtained a video that showed him unleash a volley of gunfire while the victim ran away, officials said.

North Charleston Police Officer Michael Thomas Slager was charged Tuesday in the death of 50-year-old Walter Lamer Scott. The charges were filed less than an hour after the city’s mayor and police chief received a cellphone video that appears to show Scott fleeing as Slager fires at least eight shots in his direction.

The shooting will probably be the latest turn in a national discussion on police use of force and race relations, following police killings of unarmed men last year in New York, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri. Slager is white.

“It’s not about race. It’s about power,” attorney L. Chris Stewart, who is representing the Scott family, said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “That officer thought he could just shoot this man. He thought Mr. Scott was expendable.”

The clash between Slager and Scott followed a traffic stop Saturday. A video of the incident, made public Tuesday by the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, S.C., appears to show Scott running when Slager opens fire.

In the video, Scott, wearing a green T-shirt, appears to drop something near the officer’s feet and sprints in the opposite direction. The officer fires seven times, pauses, and then fires an eighth round as Scott slumps to the ground.

The officer then walks slowly toward Scott’s prone body and begins yelling, “Put your hands behind your back,” the video shows. Other officers are then seen arriving as the person behind the camera mutters the word “abuse” as well as profanities.

Scott was initially wanted on a Family Court warrant, according to the Post and Courier report.

The video differs drastically from an account Slager gave Monday. In a statement released through attorney David Aylor, Slager claimed Scott began to wrestle for control of his stun gun after a routine traffic stop.

Slager said he “felt threatened and reached for his department-issued firearm and fired his weapon.” North Charleston Police Chief Ed Driggers said Tuesday that Scott had been struck with a stun gun during the clash.

In a brief phone interview, Aylor told the Timeshe removed himself as Slager’s attorney Tuesday. He would not say why.

Members of Scott’s family broke down Tuesday after watching a video of the shooting at their Charleston home, Stewart said.

The family plans to file a wrongful death suit against the city and Police Department, according to Stewart. The attorney declined to identify the person who recorded the shooting, describing him only as someone who happened to be passing by.

Stewart believes the video is the only reason Slager is facing criminal charges.

“It would have just been the standard story of a police officer giving his version and that would be the end of it,” he said. “In this case, this officer gave his story, and it turned out not to be true.”

The FBI in South Carolina is investigating the shooting, according to a spokeswoman for the Justice Department.

It is likely the FBI investigation would concern whether Slager violated Scott’s civil rights. Federal investigators launched a similar inquiry last year, after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in the St. Louis suburb.

Driggers, the police chief, appeared visibly upset as he discussed the shooting with reporters on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tragic day for many,” he said.

Slager was fired from his post as a North Charleston police officer Tuesday, a city spokesman told the Times. The officer had been with the department for five years and previously served in the U.S. Coast Guard. In the statement he released Monday, Slager said he had never before faced disciplinary action.

It was not immediately clear how many times Scott was shot. Slager was taken into custody by agents with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on Tuesday, but calls to an agency spokesman were not immediately returned.

Slager was booked into the Charleston County Jail about six p.m. local time on a murder charge, according to online jail records.

The person who recorded the incident brought the video to Scott’s family, who turned it over to state law enforcement officials, North Charleston Mayor R. Keith Summey told reporters.

Driggers and Summey both said North Charleston has 343 police officers, and they referred to the shooting as a mistake made by a single member of the department.

“The one does not totally throw a blanket across the many,” Driggers said.

Acknowledging tension in the city, pastor Thomas Dixon urged residents to remain peaceful if they decide to take part in demonstrations.

“We’re calling on the community to, in light of this revelation, to remain calm, honor the wishes of this family,” Dixon said during a news conference. “The family has asked specifically that the death of this young man not be dishonored.”

Scott was engaged to be married and worked for a trucking supply company, Stewart said. The attorney said Scott was driving a used Mercedes he had recently purchased from a neighbor and was on his way to buy parts for the car when Slager encountered him.

Scott, who served four years in the Coast Guard in the 1980s, had no arrests or convictions for violent offenses in recent years, Stewart said. He is survived by four sons, ages 16, 21, 22 and 24.

  • idamag

    I hope, this time, something is done to protect people from racist cops. The old excuse that the officer was attacked is wearing pretty thin.

    • angelsinca

      I’d rather see the public protected from all dangerous cops.

      • CrankyToo

        The only way to protect the public from all dangerous cops is to start prosecuting them when they abuse their authority. If the state of South Carolna incarcerates this cowardly and racist POS, that’ll make a nice start.

        • angelsinca

          I’ll reserve judgement until more facts are revealed. Such as, why did the cop have his gun drawn before the perp leapt away?

          • CrankyToo

            You can reserve judgment until the moon turns to blue cheese. There will still be no justification for shooting a fleeing man in the back. That’s why his superiors wasted no time terminating his employment and filing charges against him.

          • angelsinca

            I admire the fast actions toward the shooter. Strategically, it it prevented another Ferguson. But, it isn’t the barometer of guilt we use. It’s up to the trial to determine the facts, issue a verdict and deliver punishment.

          • CrankyToo

            I hate to admit it, but you and I finally agree on something. As a former law enforcement professional, I’m a fervent supporter of the principles of due process. So, let’s give this police officer a fair trial, then string the racist dirtbag up.

          • angelsinca

            I disagree. The color of the victim didn’t kill this man. The cop that used deadly force, where he probably shouldn’t have, did. Good thing most of us have managed to leave the tribal rush-to-lynch in the distant past.

          • CrankyToo

            First of all, if you don’t think the victim’s race is at the very heart of this tragic event, you’re off the beam.

            Secondly, I just got done telling you that I support due process – and I meant it. The saying, “give him a fair trial, then hang him” is a well-worn comic expression meant to convey the idea that the case is open and shut. And trust me, this case is open and shut.

            So remember, you heard it here first. This will play out as a racial issue (because it certainly is) and the officer involved will be convicted and sentenced (because there can be no justification for what he did).

  • charleo1

    Can’t wait to hear Fox’s explanation for this shooting. Still waiting for that illusive footage of an unarmed White man, being shot by a Black cop. If not for that video, who doubts Officer Michael Thomas Slager would have become the new hero of the Right Wing press? Or Walter Scott, the latest Black thug, that got what was coming to him?

  • 1standlastword

    The “Fraternal spirit” of police departments common across the nation suggests that this is one SC cop of potentially many within that department with the same propensity.

    Betcha his many brothers in sympathy have been told to sit down and shut the phuck up!

  • charleo1

    Oh pshaw! Let’s talk about Black on Black shootings instead!

  • Sand_Cat

    No automatic justifiers of this yet commenting.
    Unfortunately, that’s not likely to remain the case.

  • 1standlastword

    Meet the true hero! A living angel and true Christian who is willing to lay down for his own life for justice and his fellow humans, unlike the brand we elect to manage our foreign affairs who are so easily willing to sacrifice others for their profits.

    Watch this:

  • Paul Bass

    The really sad thing about all this is that if some citizen had not filmed this altercation, the police officer would have gotten away with planting evidence and lying about the interaction.
    Without this video the policeman would be the latest hero to the GOP/Tea Party set.

  • plc97477

    It is not a mistake by a single member of the police force because the police forces have allowed them to get away with it for too many years.

  • Insinnergy

    You would’ve thought that finding an unarmed suspect shot 6 times in the BACK from range during a traffic stop would be enough for charges to be laid against the officer in the normal course of events.

    How could this possibly have been ruled a good shooting when the suspect was obviously shot at range (no powder burns) in the back?
    Why would the video even be necessary?
    Was the suspect menacing the officer by running backwards at him from 5 meters away?

    I would like to believe most countries police investigators would look at the obvious and immediately available evidence with extreme skepticism and would press charges to have it tested in court, without someone have to produce a film of it.

  • idamag

    You will notice the nazies AKA KKK, AKA John Birch Society have wasted no time in cooking up a story to blame the victim.

    • Daniel Jones

      Dropping the taser by his dying body was a story to blame the victim.