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.
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.
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."
Here's the full SLED release:
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:
In an interview with NBC Nightly News that aired on Wednesday, the man who recorded the video said the shooting occurred even though the officer “had control of the situation.” He also said he thought of deleting it out of fear for his life.
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."
The same day that North Charleston officer Michael Slager was charged with the murder of Walter Scott, another member of South Carolina’s police force was arrested over the shooting death of unarmed black man.
Read Patrolman Slager's full personnel file, obtained by BuzzFeed News under Freedom of Information laws.
Read the incident report, obtained by BuzzFeed News under Freedom of Information laws. "Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my taser," Slager was heard saying by other officers.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott said he was “horrified” and brought to tears watching the video of the shooting.
Possible Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson told BuzzFeed News he was "aghast" at the shooting of Walter Scott, describing it as an "execution."
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett A. Wilson, whose office will prosecute the case against Slager, released the following statement to the press on Wednesday afternoon:
My thoughts and prayers are with the Scott family. I have had an opportunity to meet with them face-to-face and to speak with their attorneys regularly over the past few days. This is a very difficult time for them, but they have acted and reacted with dignity and grace. We are grateful for their patience, understanding and cooperation with us.
As a lawyer and prosecutor, I am subject to special rules limiting my ability to make public comments about pending cases and defendants in criminal matters. For these reasons, my office cannot comment on the merits of the case. By law, the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until he is proven guilty.
My role is to hold accountable those who harm others unlawfully, regardless of profession. This office does not dictate nor comment upon police policy, training and procedure. I am, however, deeply concerned when those who are sworn to serve and protect violate the public's trust.
It is extremely important to me that I be open and transparent with the public about the legal proceedings and the continuing investigation into this matter.
This case involves members of the North Charleston Police Department. Shortly after the incident Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Edward Driggers, though not required by law, wisely chose to immediately request that the case be independently investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). As in any case, SLED has briefed me continually throughout the investigation and we have met on multiple occasions. I have advised them on many of the legal aspects of the investigation and the charges. We remain united in our approach to this investigation and prosecution.
Moving forward, we will continue to analyze and evaluate the evidence in this case, working with SLED to seek an indictment(s). Unlike other states, South Carolina does not have an investigative grand jury system for our counties. Our Charleston Grand Jury will not meet again until the month of May.
My office is committed to notifying the public and the media if/when the Charleston County Grand Jury returns indictment(s) against the Defendant and when other court hearings are scheduled.
The Defendant has made an appearance at bond court. Because of the nature of the charge, South Carolina law requires that bond be set by a Circuit Court judge. At this time, we have not received a defense request for bond. When/if we do, the public will be notified as to the time and place of the hearing.
The Charleston County Coroner's Office said it is too early to release further information on the autopsy of Walter Scott, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
"Since this is an ongoing investigation and the Coroner's Office does not yet have a complete report, it would be premature to release further details at this time," Teresa Vickers said Wednesday.
"The Coroner will provide all appropriate information as this case develops."
Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, released the following statement to the media on the death of Walter Scott:
Walter Scott's death is a senseless tragedy and we commend the city of North Charleston for acting swiftly to deliver justice in this case. NAN's South Carolina chapter leaders have been with the family since Saturday and our thoughts and prayers are with them and the entire community of North Charleston. I have spoken with the Scott's family attorney, Chris Stewart, and plan to visit North Charleston very soon.
When a black man is stopped for a broken tail light and ends up being shot multiple times in the back, it is yet another reminder that we need a national strategy to implement real and meaningful police reform now. We simply can't rely on citizens with video cameras to make sure justice is served. We know that the majority of police officers are fair and just public servants, but the events of the past year show we still have a long way to go to ensure every citizen in America is treated equally in the eyes of law enforcement. The time to act is now.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said Scott's death was ruled a homicide.
The Charleston County Coroner's Office has been involved in the investigation of the death of Walter Lamar Scott, on April 4, 2015, since it occurred.
At the direction of the Coroner's Office, an autopsy was performed on the victim on April 5, 2015.
The autopsy revealed that Mr. Scott sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the back of his body and the manner of death was ruled "Homicide."
The autopsy findings were discussed with the attorneys representing the Scott family.
All police officers in North Charleston will soon be fitted with body cameras to record all their interactions with the public, the city's mayor said Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference, Mayor Keith Summey said North Charleston officials had received a grant to purchase 101 body cameras.
Summey said he had issued an executive order to purchase an additional 150 cameras "so that every officer who is on the street will have a body camera."
The mayor said he and Police Chief Eddie Driggers had met with the family of Walter Scott earlier on Wednesday. He said there would be no further public statements from city officials until after Scott's funeral, out of respect for the family.
Driggers said he was praying for peace, both for the Scott family and the North Charleston community.
"I have watched the video," he said. "And I was sickened by what I saw."
The mayor said the city had turned over all the information to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, an independent group investigating Patrolman Michael Slager over Scott's death.
Summey also defended city officials from accusations that the police department's majority-white force does not accurately reflect the racial mixture of the community.
"We recruit African-American members to the police department," he said. "Anyone that can become certified as a police officer, we're more than willing to hire."
Mayor Summey said despite Slager being fired from the police force, the city will continue to cover the health insurance for his wife, who is eight months pregnant, until her child is born.
The press conference was frequently interrupted by protesters angry over police interactions with the black community.
Watch the full press conference here:
South Carolina police have fired their weapons at more than 200 suspects in the past five years, according to data reviewed by the State newspaper, but no officer has been convicted.
A March article from the State analyzed data from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division and found police had shot at 209 suspects between 2010 and 2014, but only three officers were formally accused of misuse of force. No officer was convicted, but one is facing a retrial because of a hung jury, the State reported.
"In South Carolina, it remains exceedingly rare for an officer to be found at fault criminally for shooting at someone," the State reported.
The newspaper reported that at least 101 black suspects were shot at by police, 34 of whom died. Further, at least 67 white suspects were shot at, 41 of whom died. Five suspects were either Latino, Asian, or Native American, of whom four died. Racial information was not available in 36 shootings, according to the paper.
In 2014 alone, the paper found that police shot at 43 suspects, killing 18 and injuring another 20. Twenty-two of the suspects shot were black, compared with 20 white suspects. One suspect was Native American.
The paper noted that its analysis was incomplete because there exists no law in South Carolina requiring an outside agency to be notified or to investigate a police-involved shooting.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he found the video of Walter Scott's shooting "deeply troubling" and "difficult to watch."
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has tweeted further on the Walter Scott shooting, describing it as "unnecessary and avoidable."
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers' Association said the death of Scott was "unnecessary."
SCLEOA Executive Director Ryan Alphin issued the following statement to BuzzFeed News:
It is a sad day for us all when a police officer makes what appears to be a very bad decision that resulted in an unnecessary death.
Working with the community and elected officials we can overcome this tragedy.
The swift decision to charge the officer demonstrates that law enforcement will not tolerate the tarnishing of the badge and oaths we all take so seriously.
SCLEOA strives everyday to provide the very best training and support to all law enforcement officers in South Carolina and this case is not representative of the thousands of law enforcement professionals that put their lives on the line everyday to serve their communities.
Crowds gathered Wednesday morning to protest outside City Hall.
The protesters, who started gathering around 9:30 a.m., held signs that read "back turned, don't shoot" and sang "black lives matter."
The protest was arranged in part by Lance Braye, for the group Black Lives Matter. Community members took the stage to share stories of how police officers have routinely harassed black people for small offenses, such as minor traffic violations like the one that initiated Scott's shooting.
The speakers repeated that the latest shooting is not an isolated incident and that "it is a culture we need to change."
Others recounted stories of racial profiling from police officers and one young man said, "[It's] sad my parents have to tell me how to act in front of a cop whenever I'm outside of my home. Why should I have to be afraid of the guy that's supposed to protect me?"
Other chants included "No justice, no peace" and "This is what democracy looks like."
The protestors plan to reconvene at 1 p.m.
Walter Scott's family told NBC News on Wednesday that the shooting would have never come to light if there wasn't video.
"It would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others," Walter Scott's father said on the show. "When I saw it, I fell to my feet and my heart was broken."
The family said they want "justice to be served."
"The way he [Slager] was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer," Walter Scott Sr. added. "I don't know whether it was racial, or it was something wrong with his head."