What We Know So Far
- A white North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer was charged with murder for fatally shooting a black man who was running away from him on Saturday.
- The shooting of Walter Scott, 50, was captured on witness video.
- The officer, Patrolman 1t Class Michael Slager, 33, was denied bail at this court hearing Tuesday.
- Scott’s father said on the Today show Wednesday that the incident would have been “swept under the rug” if it weren’t for the footage.
- The witness who shot the video said he almost deleted it out of fear for his life.
- The South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers’ Association said the “swift decision” to charge Slager “demonstrates that law enforcement will not tolerate the tarnishing of the badge.”
- Dash cam video released Thursday also shows the traffic stop that preceded the shooting.
Warning: graphic footage.
Attorney Andy Savage from Charleston will be representing former police officer Michael Slager in court, Savage said in a written statement.
The attorney from South Carolina was retained by Slager’s family after his previous attorney removed himself from the case.
That attorney, Andy Aylor, had been hired by the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, but the officer’s labor union was no longer involved in the case, Savage said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
Savage said he has made formal requests for audio, video and other information to prepare for the case. More attorneys will also be brought in to join Slager’s defense team, he said.
Officer Slager’s mother spoke to ABC News Thursday, saying she “just can’t” watch the video of her son shooting Scott.
In the interview, Karen Sharpe said she had purposely not watched the video and has avoided comments about the case.
“I’m sorry I just can’t,” she said.
She also said that “I know how Michael is” and that he is a good person. Later, she added that she knows Scott’s family is grieving. When asked about the prospect of never seeing her son free again, Sharpe replied that she “can only hope that it’s not forever.”
“I just have to let it be and hope God takes care of everybody involved,” she said.
South Carolina Police released dash cam footage Thursday that shows Walter Scott being pulled over.
In the video, Slager says he pulled over the Mercedes-Benz because the third brake light behind the back window of the car wasn’t working. It was initially reported that one of the two brake lights was out.
Years ago the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that while only one brake light is required on a car, if a vehicle has more than one, they all must operate properly.
Slager then asked for Scott’s registration and insurance papers and Scott said he did not have the paperwork because he was in the process of buying the car. Slager then returned to his cruiser to check Scott’s identity.
At about 2 minutes, 15 seconds into the video, Scott opens the door and stands up, but Slager can be heard yelling to stay in the car. Scott complies, but around 2:34 he gets out and runs.
Neither man can be seen again in the video, but Slager can still be heard talking into his radio while he apparently chases Scott. At one point, Slager can be heard yelling, “Taser, Taser Taser.” The audio then cuts out and only picks up static.
On Thursday, the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Mark Keel, said investigators immediately knew something was not right and saw inconsistencies at the crime scene.
“We believed early on that there was something not right about what happened in the encounter,” he said. “The cell phone video shot by a bystander confirmed our initial suspicions.”
Keel said SLED agents have not yet spoken with Feidin Santana, the man who recorded the cell phone video.
“I’m grateful he decided not to erase the video,” he said. “We are eager to discuss the incident with him.”
Dozens of people have visited the memorial for Scott so far, the AP reported.
The Charleston chapter of the NAACP called for people to record officer interactions with civilians in the wake of Walter Scott’s death.
Speaking about Feidin Santana, the man who recorded Slager’s actions, Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said that the organization stood with others who “think he’s a hero,” and added, “I hope that for what he’s done, the death of Mr. Scott will not go in vain.”
Scott said that if Walter Scott’s death had not been recorded on video, half of the media would not be in South Carolina right now.
“When the image of a city is more important than the lives of its citizens, then you know you have a problem,” she said.
The NAACP president also urged citizens to continue fighting for justice in Scott’s case and to take their grievances to the ballot box by registering to vote.
The Associated Press reported on discrepancies in statements made by officer Slager and the man involved in a 2013 excessive use of force complaint against him.
Mario Givens told the AP that on an early morning in 2013, Slager banged on his front door and would not say what he wanted. According to his account, Slager then pushed opened the door and threatened to use his Taser.
“I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I raised my arms over my head, and when I did, he tased me in my stomach anyway,” Givens told the AP.
He said he was then dragged outside, handcuffed, and placed in the officer’s vehicle. Givens was later released and not charged, as his arrest was a case of mistaken identity. The officers were looking for Givens’ brother, Matthew.
On October 17, 2013, Givens filed a complaint and included witness statements. Yolanda Whitaker, who was present during the incident, reported that Slager used his stun gun “for no reason.”
Slager’s incident report stated that he feared Givens might be holding a weapon and that he had ordered Givens to come out of the house several times. Slager said he pushed open the door so that Givens would not flee. He also said that the Givens brothers look “just alike.”
Matthew Givens is about 5’5” and Mario is well over 6 feet tall, according to the AP.
An internal investigation was opened and a few weeks later Slager was exonerated.
North Charleston residents and protesters held a vigil and rally outside city hall and at the scene of the shooting on Wednesday evening. Here are some scenes from the events:
Here’s how some South Carolina papers played news of the shooting this morning:
Feidin Santana told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was walking home at the time when he saw the pursuit and decided to “see what was going on.” Before he could start recording video, Santana said the two men were on the ground, and that “you could hear the sound of the Taser.”
Still, Santana said, the officer “had control of Scott. And Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser.”
Then Scott got up and tried to run away, and Slager opened fire.
After the shooting, Santana said, “I knew right away I had something on my hands.”
NBC News also reported that Santana considered “erasing” the video out of fear for his life:
“I won’t deny that I knew the magnitude of this, and I even thought about erasing the video,” Santana said in an interview on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” Wednesday.
“I felt that my life, with this information, might be in danger. I thought about erasing the video and just getting out of the community, you know Charleston, and living some place else,” the 23-year-old said. “I knew the cop didn’t do the right thing.”
And the New York Times also reported on the decision-making process between Santana and the family:
Mr. Scott and Mr. Santana made a gentleman’s agreement after viewing the video on Sunday. They would wait another day to see if there was any need to release it: If the police stuck to the struggling-for-the-Taser story, then Mr. Santana would give the video to the family, despite his trepidation that the officer would come after him.
“I had to hold my breath and let him go,” Mr. Scott said.
By Sunday night, the family had made contact with an Atlanta lawyer who was experienced in cases involving police misconduct. The lawyer, L. Chris Stewart, got in his car and drove five hours to Charleston, arriving after 2 a.m.
On Monday, the statements from the Police Department had not changed. “It was obvious that we didn’t even have to ask him for it,” Mr. Scott said. “He was still hesitant, but he gave it to us.”
In dispatch audio, Officer Michael Slager described the shooting as, “Shots fired. Subject is down. He grabbed my taser.”
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