A South Carolina police officer was arrested and charged with murder Tuesday in the weekend shooting death of a motorist after a traffic stop over a faulty brake light.
City Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager, who is white, was taken into custody after law enforcement officials saw a video of him shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott, who is black, in the back as he ran away. Slager, 33, a five-year veteran of the North Charleston force, was denied bond at a brief first appearance hearing Tuesday. If convicted, he faces 30 years to life in prison.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced the charges at a hastily called news conference in which he said City Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager made a bad decision.
When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, Summey said. When you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or a citizen on the street, you have to live with that decision.
The video, which was obtained by The Post and Courier of Charleston from a source who asked to remain anonymous, shows the confrontation between the two on Saturday after Scott ran away from a traffic stop. Authorities say Scott, of Charleston, was shot after the officer already hit him with a stun gun.
A video of the shooting released to news media outlets shows the officer firing eight shots at Scott’s back as Scott is running away. Scott falls on the eighth shot, fired after a brief pause. The video then shows the officer slowly walking toward him, and ordering him to put his hands behind his back.
When Scott doesn’t move, Slager pulls his arms back and cuffs his hands. Then he walks briskly back to where he fired the shots, picks up an object, and returns the 30 feet or so back to Scott before dropping the object by Scott’s feet.
Attorney David Aylor said after the video surfaced Tuesday that he was no longer representing Slager. Aylor had released a statement Monday saying the officer felt threatened and that the motorist was trying to grab the officer’s stun gun.
This is a terrible tragedy that has impacted our community, Aylor told the Post and Courier.
Attorney L. Chris Stewart, who came to North Charleston a day after the shooting to represent the family, said the video forced authorities to act quickly and decisively, and he called the person who made the video a hero.
What happened today doesn’t happen all the time, Stewart told a news conference. What if there was no video? Scott’s mother stood nearby, saying, Thank you, Lord and Hallelujah. Stewart said the family plans to file a lawsuit against the police department. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said the Federal Bureau of Investigation will also investigate the shooting.
Scott’s brother Anthony said Tuesday night that because of the video, we have received the truth and through the process, justice has been served.
According to The Post and Courier, Scott was wanted for arrest on a Family Court warrant and had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. Stewart said Scott had four children, was engaged and had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard. There were no violent offenses on his record, the attorney said.
At the earlier news conference with the mayor, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers appeared close to tears.
I have been around this police department a long time and all the officers on this force, the men and women, are like my children, he told reporters. So you tell me how a father would react seeing his child do something? I’ll let you answer that yourself.
The shooting occurred as heightened scrutiny is being placed on police officer shootings, particularly those that involve white officers and unarmed black suspects. A grand jury declined to indict Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown last August, leading to nationwide protests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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