In what seems to be an unprecedented move in South Carolina, a police officer in North Charleston has been charged with murder after shooting a man during a traffic stop over the weekend, authorities said Tuesday.
The decision, which follows a year of protests and demonstrations over excessive police violence nationally, was announced by the city’s mayor and police chief at a Tuesday afternoon news conference . Authorities said the officer would be charged with murder after they viewed video footage of the incident that showed the officer shooting the man in the back as he was fleeing the scene.
Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager, 33, has been taken into custody and charged with murder, according to the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, which is investigating the shooting.
“It’s been a tragic day for many,” North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers said at the news conference. “A tragic day for many.”
The shooting followed a traffic stop made shortly after 9:30 a.m. Saturday, according to a police report. After Slager, who is white, stopped a vehicle, he began chasing the driver, described in the report as a black man and identified as Walter Scott, 50.
At this point, Slager told the dispatcher, “Shots fired and the subject is down, he took my Taser,” according to the portion of the report filled out by another officer who relayed what he heard.
However, at least a portion of the confrontation was videotaped by another person in the area, authorities said Tuesday afternoon. The man who filed this footage took it to Scott’s family and it was given to SLED.
“I can tell you that as a result of that video and the bad decision made by our officer, he will be charged with murder,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said at the news conference.
In South Carolina, it’s rare that an officer who fires in the line of duty would be charged at all, much less convicted. A murder charge is unprecedented in at least the past five years, The State newspaper found in its analysis of 209 suspects in officer-involved shootings across South Carolina between 2010 and 2014.
This shooting comes after incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and New York, among other places, have drawn heavy scrutiny over confrontations that ended with black men dead. The unrest has continued into this year, as a shooting in Madison, Wisc., was followed by lengthy protests.
Authorities stressed that the episode in North Charleston was not indicative of the city’s entire police force of 343 officers, instead calling this a singular “bad decision” made by one officer.
“I think all of these police officers, men and women, are like my children,” Driggers said. “So you tell me how a father would react to seeing his son do something? I’ll let you answer that.”
Officials and activists said they were asking the community to keep calm in the wake of the video’s release and the decision to seek murder charges against the officer.
“We want to ask the community to remain calm,” Elder Johnson of the National Action Network said.
State staff reporter Clif LeBlanc contributed.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
SC Governor Nikki Haley
“We have many good law enforcement officers in the field. What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina, nor is it reflective of our values or of the way most of our law enforcement officials act, and I assure all South Carolinians that the criminal judicial process will proceed fully. This is a sad time for everyone in South Carolina, and I urge everyone to work together to help our community heal.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston
(On Twitter) After watching the video, the senseless shooting and taking of #WalterScott's life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable. (1/2)
ACLU of South Carolina
“The ACLU of South Carolina urges state and federal officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the practices of the North Charleston Police Department following the fatal shooting last weekend of Walter Scott. Video released today raises disturbing questions about excessive use of force,” ACLU of S.C. Executive Director Victoria Middleton said.
“Previous calls for a review of police practices following allegations of racial profiling by North Charleston police have met no response,” Middleton said.
“We need to look at department policies and training and examine whether racial profiling and excessive use of force are part of the culture.”
Attorney General Alan Wilson
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson provided the following comments regarding the tragic shooting in North Charleston, S.C. While speaking at a town hall meeting on domestic violence and human trafficking sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Beaufort County, Attorney General Wilson made the following remarks: “This is a very difficult and emotional time for our state. I have already spoken with Chief Mark Keel and Solicitor Scarlett Wilson on this matter, and I am very confident that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division will conduct a very thorough and fair investigation and that Solicitor Wilson’s office will uphold the rule of law. Our office is always available to assist if we are needed.”
U.S. Senator Tim Scott
U.S. Senator Tim Scott released the following statement this morning regarding the death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina: “The horrific video that came to light yesterday is deeply troubling. It is clear the killing of Walter Scott was unnecessary and avoidable, and my prayers are with the Scott family as they go through this ordeal. The swift action taken by SLED and the relevant authorities upon receiving the video shows the severity of this terrible event.
With several protests planned today, I join community leaders in North Charleston in calling for peace. I understand the hurt, the frustration and the anger many are feeling today. But violence solves nothing.
We must come together as a community, as a state, and as a nation in working to bring our communities together and rebuild trust.”
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made the following statement on the shooting death of Walter Scott: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Walter Scott. The horrific video is very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts.
“I have full confidence this incident will continue to be investigated by the relevant authorities, the legal process will proceed, and ultimately, justice will be done.
“I also know the actions of the officer in this situation do not accurately reflect on the many valuable contributions made by thousands of law enforcement officers in South Carolina and across our nation.”
SCDP Chair Responds to North Charleston Tragedy
South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison issued the following statement after the tragic and heartbreaking events in North Charleston this week.
"First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Walter Scott. No words can fix the heartache they must be experiencing. South Carolina and the nation mourn their loss and share their pain.
The tragic and entirely unnecessary death of Walter Scott is further proof that we have a systemic problem with rogue members of law enforcement and their interactions with communities of color. Sadly, this type of incident really isn't new for many African-American communities and it only perpetuates the fear that so many have regarding interacting with members of law enforcement. We know this is not emblematic of law enforcement generally. There are thousands of officers and departments that are model protectors of the public. Nonetheless, we have to root out the bad officers who should not be police if they cannot serve, protect and value the lives of all Americans.
Growing up in Orangeburg, I often heard families tell stories of rogue officers abusing their authority and mistreating young Black men. Even now, as the first African-American Chair of a major statewide political party, I cannot honestly say that I would not be a bit nervous or overly cautious if suddenly I was being pulled over by an officer. This lingering distrust between these communities must end and the total disregard for equal justice and preservation of human life must stop. No parent should have to worry about their child or love one being shot in the back by a rogue officer.
As a community, we must work together to find solutions now! I specifically call upon our elected and community leaders to put aside politics and bias and begin to forge a path forward. We need more dialogue and community forums to strengthen relationships between law enforcement and communities of color. We need to enact legislation that improves law enforcement training and oversight, as well as provide body cameras for law enforcement officials so as to accurately record and reflect tense interactions. We need law enforcement officials to begin to identify those within their ranks that have had issues and problems dealing with diverse communities and assist them with counseling or relieve them of their duties.
America continues to be a beacon for hope, freedom, and justice all across the world, but we will and should be judged by others and ourselves in how we deal with these blatant instances of injustice."