A white police officer in the southeastern U.S. state of South Carolina has been charged with murder after a video showed him firing repeated shots at a fleeing, unarmed black man and killing him after a traffic stop.
The fatal shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott last Saturday in the city of North Charleston occurred after he was pulled over by Officer Michael Slager for driving with a broken brake light.
The video, taken by a bystander with a cellphone camera, shows Slager firing eight times at Scott. After Scott fell to the ground after the final shot, Slager walked over to Scott and handcuffed him, then returned to the spot where he opened fire. The officer picked up something from the ground, walked back to Scott’s body, and dropped the object next to him.
Scott’s father, Walter Scott, Sr., told NBC’s Today show Wednesday that he believed his son may have tried to flee because “he didn’t want to go to jail again” for child support payments he owed. “He just ran away.”
North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager is seen in an undated photo released by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in Charleston Heights, South Carolina.North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager is seen in an undated photo released by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in Charleston Heights, South Carolina.
Slager initially said he opened fire after Scott had taken his electronic stun gun during a scuffle.
The unidentified witness who took the video turned it over to Scott’s family. A lawyer for the family turned the video over to The New York Times, which posted it on its website Tuesday.
“What if there was no video?,” Chris Stewart, the attorney for Scott’s family, told reporters late Tuesday night. “What if there was no witness, or hero as I call him, to come forward? Then this wouldn’t have happened, because as you can see the initial reports stated something totally different, the officer said that Mr. Scott attacked him and pulled his taser and tried to use it on him, but somebody was watching.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state’s criminal investigative body, has begun a probe into the shooting. The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI have each opened separate investigations.
This is the latest in a series of fatal encounters in the United States between unarmed black males and white police, including the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City. The incidents led to massive protests across the nation over aggressive police tactics in minority communities.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said during a news conference announcing the charges against Slager. “And 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.”
U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, an African American, said on Twitter that he had seen the video of the shooting. Scott said it was “senseless” and “absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.”