A white police officer in South Carolina was placed under arrest and charged with murder on Tuesday for the shooting death of an unarmed black man after video of the shooting showed the victim being shot in the back multiple times as he attempted to flee the scene of an altercation.
In the just over 3-minute video, Walter L. Scott, described by media outlets as a 50-year-old Navy veteran and father, can be clearly seen running away, with his back turned, as he was shot multiple times by Officer Michael T. Slagger.
Estimates based on the video conclude that as many as eight shots were fired, though the local coroner has not yet stated how many times Scott was struck. Initially pulled over for having a broken tail light on his car, Scott died from his wounds at the scene.
As the North Charleston Post and Courier, which first obtained the footage, reports:
The video footage, which The Post and Courier obtained Tuesday from a source who asked to remain anonymous, shows the end of the confrontation between the two on Saturday after Scott ran from a traffic stop. It was the first piece of evidence contradicting an account Slager gave earlier this week through his attorney.
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement that FBI investigators would work with the State Law Enforcement Division, which typically investigates officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, and the state’s attorney general to investigate any civil rights violations in Scott’s death. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said during a news conference that Slager had made a “bad decision.”
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Summey said. “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.”
The Police Department, which has 343 police officers, has fought accusations in the past that aggressive patroling tactics had unfairly target mostly poor, black community. The newspaper reported in September that 18 percent of the officers were black while the city’s population is 45 percent black.
The video, subsequently obtained by the New York Times and other outlets, contains very troubling footage: [Warning: graphic]
Though the shooting took place several days ago in the city of North Charleston, South Carolina, the video—which was taken by a passerby and provided to the local newspaper—only surfaced on Tuesday. The footage immediately raised concerns, however, as the it contradicted key portions of how Officer Slagger initially reported the incident. Through a statement from his lawyer earlier this week, Slagger said that "he feared for his life" and that Scott had grabbed his taser in a struggle.
However, as the Guardian describes it:
[The video] appears to show that a stun gun wire has already been deployed, but falls out as Scott runs away from Slager, who pulls out his firearm and shoots until Scott falls to the ground. The officer then walks over to the body and appears to talk into his radio. He reaches the body and shouts: “Put your hands behind your back now, put your hands behind your back”. Scott is motionless, his face down in the ground.
The officer then appears to shout “Put your hands behind your back” again before picking up Scott’s limp arms and placing them in what look like handcuffs.
Slager then moves away from the body and picks up an item from the ground, near where he fired the shots. At this point another officer arrives on the scene and stands over Scott’s body.
Slager walks back over to the body and appears to drop the item he has picked up next to Scott’s body.
L. Chris Stewart, the Scott family's attorney, told Mashable in a phone interview on Tuesday that the victim's family started crying and hugging when the murder charge was announced on Tuesday. Stewart additionally said that the still-anonymous bystander who took the video is a "hero" and that documentation of incidents like this, unfortunately, is vital if justice is to be served.
"It's a historic situation because i think it’s changed the eye that judges and the courts look at these cases," Stewart told Mashable. "We can’t just immediately trust the word of someone who just killed someone."
On Twitter, the reaction to the video was trending, with many observing that absent the video Officer Slagger would almost certainly not have been charged, nor his story even questioned:
If the video doesn't come out, there is no way the officer is charged. http://t.co/NxFI81rUZY
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) April 7, 2015
Footage of the shooting disturbing enough. Footage of cop helping his fellow cop plant the weapon: sick sick sick. http://t.co/Yg2cCPhoM1
— Liliana Segura (@LilianaSegura) April 7, 2015
Shot in the back while running away. Who would’ve believed it without the video? http://t.co/KneUovj9Qv
— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) April 7, 2015
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) April 7, 2015
What are the odds that the only time it went down this way just happened to be the only time it was captured on video? #WalterScott
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) April 8, 2015