South Carolina Officer Charged With Murder, Massive Change in Ferguson

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This time there would be no mistake, no second-guessing: a white officer is seen on video shooting a black man, killing him as the man ran away. At first the officer, 33 years old, claimed that he feared for his life because the man took away his stun gun during a traffic stop Saturday.

The video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as 50-year-old Walter Scott fled.

In a news conference on Tuesday evening, the state charges were announced. The shooting becomes the latest in a series of high-profile incidents in which police officers used lethal force. These shootings have continued a national debate over police tactics and whether the police are too quick to use force, particularly in cases involving black men.

According to the New York Times, which received a copy of the video, “North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white.”

“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Mayor Keith Summey said during the news conference. “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.”

Watch the video below – warning graphic:

The video was shot by a bystander. According to the NY Times, “The shooting unfolded after Officer Slager stopped the driver of a Mercedes-Benz with a broken taillight, according to police reports. Mr. Scott ran away, and Officer Slager chased him into a grassy lot that abuts a muffler shop. He fired his Taser, an electronic stun gun, but it did not stop Mr. Scott, according to police reports.”

Moments after the struggle, Officer Michael Slager reported on his radio: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” according to police reports.

According to the Times:

“The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.

“Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.

“The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”

Mr. Scott does have a record. He has been arrested about ten times, but mostly that is for failing to pay child support or to show up for court hearings. He does have more serious charges, but they date back over 20 years. He was arrested in 1987 on an assault and battery charge and convicted in 1991 of possession of a bludgeon, according to the Charleston newspaper.

“He has four children; he doesn’t have some type of big violent past or arrest record,” said Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Mr. Scott’s family. “He had a job; he was engaged. He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for back child support.”

According to Mr. Stewart, Mr. Scott was struck five times, including three times in the back.

The Post and Courier reports that the Department of Justice will work with prosecutors on the investigation.

They note, “The Police Department, which has 343 sworn officers, has fought accusations in the past that aggressive patrolling tactics had unfairly targeted poor, predominately black communities. The newspaper reported in September that 18 percent of the officers were black while the city’s population is 45 percent black.”

Meanwhile, in Ferguson where this debate started, the election results figure to change the face of the city council.

Voters showed up in record numbers on Tuesday, with the results increasing the number of blacks on the council from one to three. Three incumbents decided not to run, which left half of the council’s six seats up for grabs.

However, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports, “Tuesday’s election was less than a clear victory for the throngs of volunteers who poured into the city in a last-minute push to sway voters.”

The turnout, while record numbers, was still only 30 percent, although that is double the typical turnout.

Two candidates supported by the protesters, in fact, lost.

However, Ella Jones garnered about 50 percent of the vote. The chair of the Human Rights Commission ran even before Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson. She accordingly ran “partly because of the way she witnessed young black men being treated by police.”

How much this changes things in Ferguson remains to be seen.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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46 thoughts on “South Carolina Officer Charged With Murder, Massive Change in Ferguson”

  1. hpierce

    Thanks, Matt.

    Now, a substantive comment.  The officer is clearly “rogue”.  To tie this to police as a whole would BS.  A few hints… clearly suspect is running away, the initial stop was an “equipment violation”, and you have to wonder about a police officer, beginning at relatively short distance, needing 8 shots to ‘stop’ a suspect.  CNN reports the officer faces charges leading to life, or death penalty.  The officer appears to exact the ‘death penalty’ from the guy driving with a broken taillight, possibly resisting arrest.  Will be interesting to see if folk here demand the ‘death penalty’ for the officer should be “taken off the table”.  After all, the video could be ‘doctored’, another example of the unreliability of “eye-witnesses”, the officer could be the product of a dysfunctional family, or a corrupt police system, or other ‘mitigating’ reasons.

    Also, officer might not get a “fair trial” due to the ‘viral’ nature of the video’s distribution. CNN, internet (other than here), etc.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The officer is clearly “rogue”.  ”

      the basic narrative with regards to michael brown was that he was complicit in his own death.  i get it, he made a series of bad choices that clearly contributed to his death.  however, i believe that the officer didn’t handle things as well as he should have and could have avoided killing brown.

      then we have eric garner.  this one is caught on video.  the narrative was that the officer should have avoided killing mr. garner.  the gj gut this wrongbut it wasn’t racially motivated.

      now we have the case of walter scott.  yes, walter should not have run.  but the officer here clearly lied about what happened, tried to plant evidence to support his version of the incident, but the video again condemns him.  this time, he is charged with murder – the prosecutor didn’t even bother to go to a grand jury.  the needle has moved clearly.

      but we still have the comments that this is just a cop going rogue, it doesn’t condemn the police.  i agree that this is a cop doing something bad.  i believe there are a lot of very good cops that would never have done this and think this guy is despicable.  believe me when i say this – that very facts helps to reassure me.

      HOWEVER – the idea that there isn’t something wrong with policying today whether its police-minority relations, militarization, heavy-handed tactics, etc. is the bs.  we need to confront this right on, because every single time this happens and it’s a white officer and a black victim, it reinforces the mistrust in the minority community that makes police officers jobs 100 times harder, maybe even more.

      1. hpierce

        “the needle has moved clearly.” Yeah, like a compass and the GPS unit are the same.  Comparing the SC event, and its documentation, Ferguson, etc., is somewhat analogous to comparing apples and Martians.  A world apart.

        1. Davis Progressive

          indeed.  there are a lot of comparisons between ferguson and sc event.  we still really don’t know how far away michael brown was from wilson when the fatal shot occurred and whether he was running towards him, standing up, or moving away.  the difference is that (a) ferguson had no video and (b) the prosecutor in sc didn’t go grand jury.  my guess is that if ferguson happened now, it wouldn’t have either.

      2. tribeUSA

        DP–I agree with your comments, until the end

        “..every single time this happens and it’s a white officer and a black victim..”

        This statement is simply false. The limited data that are available on police shootings indicate that the majority of those shot are in fact white, not black. Or are you suggesting that every single time a white person is shot by a police officer, it is always fully justified?

        You need to re-word your statement with the qualifiers “nearly every time the mainstream media picks up on police shootings and broadcasts them nationally and does a series of stories on the incident, the victims are black, not white”. This is an accurate statement.

        But I do agree with most of the rest of your comment, and do agree that use of excessive force, regardless of skin colors of anyone involved, is a national issue that needs to be examined (this particular case seems to be a clear case of police abuse–civil rights advocates should rally around this case, and not Ferguson).

         

  2. Miwok

    I think these types of articles might be able to stand on their own, as individual topics, instead of trying to mix and match each story each day.

    I am sure the families of these well loved individuals would prefer to remember the lost as people, not as statistics. When you compare the PD in each case, they are all individuals, as is each victim/criminal. I view them as all the same when you lump them into the same story.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      While definitely true, I’m always mindful that I can’t cover all of these outside the area stories that I might want to. Given that these were a little time sensitive, it made more sense to run them together than to separate them.

  3. PhilColeman

    A few ancillary points to ponder. The self-evident video differs on several key points cited by the media in “the police report.” If this police department follows standard practice in such cases, all officers on scene will be required to submit a detailed supplemental report of their observations and actions. So what I’m saying is the “police report” was probably a compilation of several reports.

    Every officer submitting a report is going to be thoroughly scrutinized on the report content and the video sequence. It is critical to note that the reports were submitted BEFORE the video became known. Probably every one of those officers should seek legal counsel immediately.

    The video showed a companion officer picking something up at the location of the shooter and then transporting it to the person shot and dropping it. The best guess is that it was the Taser, and the action strongly suggests this action was to put the Taser closer in position with the fallen man.

    That officer will be easily identified. His supplemental report will be examined for evidence of him doing this. Assume the report says, instead, that he observed the Taser near the decedent. If that is an accurate summation, that officer is criminally complicit in a capital offense after the fact (assuming again that SC laws are patterned after most every other state). That’s a felony.

    Assuming further that all this is borne out by later reports and findings, that officer has faint hope he is not charged as an accessory, tampering with evidence, and submitting an untruthful report. I can’t imagine a circumstance where this person remains in law enforcement, and more likely will go to state prison.

    1. Davis Progressive

      how so?  to me they are all three very similar.  the question not being asked is how can police better gain compliance of people who are not resisting arrest.  in the case of ferguson there were several points that the officer could have de-escalated the situation and ultimately there are questions about when he shot brown.  in the staten island situation you have clear questions as to whether the officer should have taken such a heavy handed approach.  all three the officers handling of the conduct excalated what should have been mild incidents into fatalities.

      1. Frankly

        There are more bad lawyers than there are bad cops.

        There are more more bad politicians than there are bad cops.

        There are more bad teachers than there are bad cops.

        The difference is that we are recording, filming and reading the private text messaged of cops and catching more of the bad ones (and even some that we think might be bad).  Too bad we are not doing the same with lawyers, politicians and teachers… three professions that do more irreparable damage to many more people than do cops.

        1. Davis Progressive

          while i tend to agree with don and think your timing is poorly considered, you’re basically making an argument by assertion.  there are plenty of bad lawyers for instance, most of the time we’re not shooting guns at people.  most of the time, while we might not be on tape, we are being recorded.  not sure how you defend the indefensible act by claiming that there are more bad lawyers than cops.

        2. Frankly

          A police officer murders someone and this is the best you can come up with?

          What more do you want other than my agreement that he was a bad cop?  Fired and accused of murder.  I support that based on the current evidence I am aware of.

          But you shrink from the point and go for the personal attack.

          If you really are so tone deaf to discussions about this because of the death of the victim, then I have to wonder why we are not talking about the hundreds of thousands of other inner-city victims dead from gun shots.  How many of them are dead because they are stuck in their circumstances because of bad teachers, politicians and lawyers?  Those three professions don’t pull the trigger, they actually cause more widespread death and destruction from thousands of perpetual cuts.   And they also make the job of policing more difficult.

          1. Don Shor

            What more do you want other than my agreement that he was a bad cop? Fired and accused of murder. I support that based on the current evidence I am aware of.

            That would have been a good starting point, yes.

        3. David Greenwald Post author

          ankly,

          How would you even quantify that? Plus there are probably more lawyers and teachers than police officers – by a large margin.

        4. Tia Will

          Frankly

          I see quite another difference.

          None of the other groups of people you named kill people and certainly none of them kill them deliberately.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I don’t have an answer for you on that, to me any time an officer shoots a citizen, it is a big deal. However, comments like yours do make me wonder if the right is completely oblivious to the long history in this country of legalized white supremacy.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      The other thing you have is this: how often do these shootings occur? In Oakland, California, the NAACP reported that out of 45 officer-involved shootings in the city between 2004 and 2008, 37 of those shot were black. None were white. In North Charleston, 80 percent of the police force is white even the though the town is nearly 50 percent black. So there are overlapping issues. How many times has a black officer shot and killed a white citizen in the last year?

      1. Frankly

        Similar circumstances as the other three recent cop shootings of unarmed men with arrest records.

        But no riots.  No Al Sharpton.  No media feeding frenzy.

        We know why.

        Also, we know why we don’t see reports and outrage for all non-cop related gun death of blacks.

        1. Davis Progressive

          first of all, we also don’t see reports of all officer involved shootings of blacks – why?  there are clearly multiple ingredients that make one incident a national story and other not.  as they say, be sure that it’s filmed and shown on national tv.  ferguson was the only one of the major ones that was not filmed.  activists protesting are what generated the news.  and not sharpton, he only came later.  aiding this latest incident has been the ongoing narrative nationally and discussion.  does the circumstances of this shooting (link you provided) concern me?  absolutely.  i’m glad the local paper is looking into it, often papers have not had much interest.  it also frames the narrative of militarization of police, but my guess is you don’t want to go there.  you’d rather point out the racial issue and lack of coverage, i see it as a data point that should lead us to question police tactics.  you probably disagree – which i find interesting.

  4. Frankly

    This…

    A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that the death rate due to legal intervention was more than three times higher for blacks than for whites in the period from 1988 to 1997.

    And then this…

    The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2004, state courts had over 1 million felony convictions. Of those, 59 percent were committed by whites and 38 percent by blacks. But when you factor in the population of whites and blacks, the felony rates stand at 330 per 100,000 for whites and 1,178 per 100,000 for blacks. That’s more than a three-fold difference.

    So blacks commit felonies at 3 times the rate of whites, and blacks get shot and killed by cops at 3 times the rate of whites.

    I wonder if blacks did not commit felonies at any greater rate than whites if blacks would also not be killed by cops at any greater rate?

    Maybe instead of cop racial bias, we are see cop felony-bias.

    1. Davis Progressive

      except that you’re looking at 20 year old data whereas the latest studies show that police are more likely to shoot and kill blacks (by about 25%) even controlling for those differences. we also know that the data on officer involved shootings is incomplete.

      1. Frankly

        They don’t control for all the differences.  They don’t control for geographic concentration of high crime areas that also tend to have a higher percentage of blacks living there.   That alone can account for the discrepancy.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Frankly: The problem with that view is that complaints about disparate treatment of blacks by police (of which officer involved shootings are just the most extreme example) extend well beyond areas where there is a geographical concentration of crime.

        2. Frankly

          First, I agree that racism exists and that cops generally tend to be more suspicious of blacks and Hispanics than they do whites and Asians.

          But when controlled for all of the criteria that should be included, the difference is both, explained as bias other than specific racial bias, and is immaterial in occurrence.

          For example, how was the suspect dressed, and how did he and walk, talk and behave?  Control for those things.

          Cops working in high crime areas where they encounter black and Hispanic criminals in much greater numbers would stop and arrest blacks and Hispanics in higher numbers.  This accounts for 95% of the over-representation figures that you and others continue to cite as proof of cop racism.

          The Asian control really kills your ongoing droning narrative that cops are racist.  The cops are biased about looks and behavior that reminds them of criminal activity.  If cops where truly racist as you keep demanding, then why would we not see Asians over-represented in crime and punishment?  I will answer that question for you… it is because blacks and Hispanics as a group behave badly, and this behavior causes a general criminal risk-assessment that extends beyond the ghetto.  There is a culture of crime and victim mentality and there is a culture of hard work and personal responsibility.  The former results in greater attention from cops, the latter results in lesser attention from cops.  It is as simple as that with the exception of a very small percentage of bad cops.

  5. Davis Progressive

    one of the interesting points that the conservatives here missed is that when the shooting first happened early saturday morning, the local media believed the officers account and barely touched the issue.  the media didn’t rush in from outside of the area either.  it was only when the new york times got a hold of the video that the narrative changed.

    1. hpierce

      Yeah, right, but that doesn’t explain why the cop was in custody, charged with murder, long before NYT was read by anybody.  But am sure you’ll have a brilliant explanation for that, as well.

        1. hpierce

          Then, why would the local media believe the officer’s account, if he was already in custody?  Am I missing something in the timeline? As I understood it the video was in the possession of the family within hours, and given to authorities shortly thereafter, and once the authorities had it, the officer was in custody very quickly… but that’s just from the unreliable media…

        2. Davis Progressive

          i don’t understand your point.  he was arrested tuesday night. the incident happened on saturday.  the local media believed his account between those two points in time.

    2. Frankly

      I don’t see any point here.  The local media would always go with the report from law enforcement.  Lacking this video evidence would the police department have investigated the shooting and came up with a similar narrative or a different one that favored the officer?  That you don’t know.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i don’t know for sure – it be interesting to see how many police have been charged with a crime for an duty shooting without video.  given how few have been charged overall, my guess is almost none (a point a lot of people missed about ferguson).

        however my point is that its not like the national media immediately jumped on this story.  only when the video emerged and the nyt got into the act did this get national attention.

        1. Frankly

          I fully support an independent board of trained law enforcement professionals from other precincts to investigate each and every incident where a cop shoots and kills a suspect.

        2. Frankly

          Because the AG is an elected position in most states.  I don’t think it makes sense to have any politician connected to the investigation.  Remember Mike Nifong?  The AG can decide to prosecute or not, but politics should not play any part in the investigation.

  6. Napoleon Pig IV

    “. . . and the nyt got into the act. . . ”

    Let’s hear it for a free press and gutsy citizens willing to document evidence of abuse of power, not to mention murder.

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